Genesis or Armageddon? Let’s celebrate the Genesis!

As we recently reported, last Thursday, by a majority of 3:2, the three specialist members of the Inner-Metro Joint Development Assessment Panel, or JDAP, over the opposition of the two Fremantle City Council members, approved the redevelopment of the heritage listed Genesis/Robert Harper Building in the historic West End of Fremantle. As to whether the ‘breathing of new life’ into the West End – the JDAP majority view – is a good thing or a bad thing is something on which Freo minds differ. Some fear it spells the end of days for the West End, its Armageddon. Others see it as heralding a new day, a new Genesis for the West End and beyond.

In this new feature, Genesis or Armageddon? Fremantle Shipping News is pleased to share views on the significance of the JDAP Genesis/Robert Harper Building decision.

In this article, longtime Freo resident and former Fremantle City Councillor Peter Newman celebrates the JDAP decision.

For other posts, look here.

The Genesis redevelopment has opened up a big discussion on the West End and its future. The old guard (which includes me) generally don’t like touching our West End beyond its beautifully crafted original fabric. We have stopped a freeway going through the middle of it and it survived well during the Americas Cup. Gerry MacGill as Fremantle Council’s Chair of Planning and Jeremy Dawkins Town Planner, all insisted on heritage-based regeneration and it worked.

There was only one really contentious building with Alan Bond wanting to build a skyscraper to replace the Esplanade Hotel. His proposal was rejected so he went to Scarborough instead. The Esplanade got a much better redevelopment that added considerably to the site but turned it into one of the best hotel’s in Perth.

The Esplanade renewal was based on an extra level setback from the street and additional rooms at the back of the site. These were all high quality and fitted the streetscape. More importantly it showed that such investment could work in Fremantle.

Just like the Genesis building.

The Phillimore Precinct is in serious transition. The old functions related to the port are nearly all gone and the urban fabric has to find new functions or it will be abandoned as it was in the 70’s and 80’s. The Genesis concept seems to be pushing into new opportunities based on the need to make the most of the area’s historic walkable urbanism.

The Future of Fremantle project is starting the planning for how we want the old port area, mostly in North Fremantle but it will have to include the West End as well. This kind of development which is 4 storeys high and completes the streets around it with a lot more urban activity, is exactly the kind of model we would want to see on both sides of the river.

This is European urbanism at its best. Two storeys needs to become four storeys but it needs to fit the Fremantle fabric’s historic qualities. If we had that goal guiding our future then I would rest very easily as the next few decades set out such urban renewal.

The need to achieve such densities whilst retaining urban qualities seems to be possible for investors now that Adrian Fini’s concept has been developed. The financial viability of such a proposal is never easy but Adrian has a history of finding ways to do it when others failed.

Primaries redevelopment

We live near the Primaries Woolstore redevelopment which goes between Russell, Grey and South Tce. For our first 20 years there this site was abandoned and all proposals for redevelopment could not make it work. Adrian made it work and the result became a model for warehouse redevelopment in Fremantle.

Adrian has done similar projects in central Perth with the Treasury Building (now called Como) and the Rechabite Building (in Northbridge). We now wait eagerly Hesperia, a business cofounded by Adrian and his business partner Ben Lisle, to progress the redevelopment of the Fremantle Woolstores which have been empty for decades.

I should conclude by saying that my research group at Curtin do work with Hesperia on research of relevance to net zero precinct development. This too is hard, and nobody quite knows how to do it yet. We want to tap creative approaches to development to help solve climate change as well as make beautiful buildings.

I hope we can find more opportunities like Genesis in the West End but also in the whole Future of Fremantle project.

* By Peter Newman AO, Fremantle resident, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University


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