On 18 April 2016 the Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne approved redevelopment of the Wesley Church site in Lonsdale Street Melbourne. This is an exciting step for the Uniting Church that assures the church's future as a place of worship and community gathering. The redevelopment will also see Wesley Mission Victoria offices returning to their geographical origins and the Synod offices relocating to the site following completion of the new commercial building on the site.
The objectives of the redevelopment are threefold:
A unique transaction with the developer Charter Hall means the site will not be sold. It will be leased from the Uniting Church for 125 years, assuring the church's future as a place of worship and community gathering for perpetuity.
Wesley Church, Manse, Schoolhouse and Caretaker's Cottage represent the earliest intact neo-Gothic church complex in Victoria. The planning approval safeguards the longevity of these buildings which have the highest significant heritage value on the site. The Princess Mary Club, a concrete building constructed in the late 1920s will be removed, however the church is confident that the legacy of the Princess Mary Club will continue through the work of Wesley Mission Victoria. The agency provides over 130 difference services and is committed to providing programs for women that improve their life circumstances and that are relevant to today's needs.
The refurbishment of the site at ground level will provide a revitalised precinct with contemplative spaces, sections for communal activities, and cafes and dining areas. An office space across 33 floors will be constructed on the site. The redevelopment also preserves an olive tree, believed to be the oldest imported tree in Victoria, which will become the focal point of a new green urban sanctuary and tower square.
Project Update February 2017- Uniting Church and Charter Hall finalise ground lease for CBD site
Last month property developer Charter Hall assumed access, security responsibility and control of the Wesley Upper Lonsdale Street property in Melbourne under the 125-year ground lease.
The signing of the ground lease is a significant moment for the Church as it signals the beginning stages of the redevelopment, something which has been on the wishlist of both the Wesley Congregation and Wesley Mission Victoria for many years.
To enable Charter Hall to secure the site and prepare for the development, the area around the Wesley Church has been hoarded up. However, the church itself is still accessible and Sunday services are continuing as usual.
Initial work has involved archaeological surveying and rubbish removal. This painstaking work has uncovered bits of fabric, broken crockery and a range of other material from the late 1880s.
Wesley Church minister Rev Alistair Macrae said he was pleased to see work beginning.
"It is encouraging to see that this important project is one step closer to realising the vision of developing contemporary worship, witness and service on the legacy of this historic site," he said.
The lease area excludes the church building and western edge of the site (Wesley House and Nicholas Hall).
As part of the agreement negotiated by the Synod, an innovative sinking fund has been established for the preservation and maintenance of the buildings of 'highest significant' heritage value. The first contribution to the sinking fund was made by Charter Hall on 10 January 2017.
The terms of the lease ensure the site's future as a place of worship and community gathering space.
An olive tree, believed to be the oldest imported living tree in Victoria, will become the focal point of a new green urban sanctuary and tower square.
Construction of the office tower is expected to commence in mid-2017 with the project expected to be completed in late 2019.