One of Melbourne city centre’s most beautiful – and most troubled – heritage buildings has been bought for a record $25 million by a mystery Singapore developer.
It’s the third time the Equity Chambers building has sold in five years, with previous plans to turn it into apartments – with retail and commercial space – defeated by the complexities of various heritage listings.
Two of those developers actually sold some of the projected apartments off the plan, before withdrawing and returning buyers’ deposits.
Now it’s expected that yet another sales campaign will be launched before the end of the year for the planned 158 apartments, over 18 levels, in the hope that either the old buyers will be game enough to try again, or new hopefuls will come forward.
“I’m not sure any of the originals will come back to it after so much disappointment,” said Clinton Baxter, Savills Melbourne state director of Victoria CBD and metropolitan sales. “But it’s such a beautiful building, I imagine there’ll be plenty more who’ll want to buy.”
The current five-level building at 472 Bourke Street – the former site of the first synagogue in the state – dates back to 1931. It had been the longest continuously occupied barristers’ chambers in Australia. Its tenants once included legal profession elder statesman Sir Eugene “Pat” Gorman.
Melbourne City Council granted developer Williamson Properties planning approval in 2008 to build 215 apartments on the site. That company onsold the premises in 2012 for $12.7 million to Malaysian developer DKLS. In 2013, Chinese developer ZYTT bought the building for $15 million.
The current buyer is a large Singaporean group, with a long track record of successful developments, which has demanded the sales contract be cloaked in confidentiality. A City of Melbourne spokesman said the original planning permit is still valid.
“Hopefully this will be the last developer to own the building,” said Baxter. “The issues that confronted the other developers was all the various heritage listings, including archaeological, that have made it a very complex site.