Builders refuse to work on Bondi landmark's $38m revamp

The Bondi Pavilion (left) has been used for Turkish baths, formal balls, an officers' club during World War II and, more recently, yoga classes and film festivals. But a planned revamp (right) includes a proposal to lease space to private operators o
The Bondi Pavilion (above) has been used for Turkish baths, formal balls, an officers' club during World War II and, more recently, yoga classes and film festivals. But a planned revamp includes a proposal to lease space to private operators of cafes and restaurants.PHOTO: JONATHAN PEARLMAN
The Bondi Pavilion (left) has been used for Turkish baths, formal balls, an officers' club during World War II and, more recently, yoga classes and film festivals. But a planned revamp (right) includes a proposal to lease space to private operators o
The Bondi Pavilion has been used for Turkish baths, formal balls, an officers' club during World War II and, more recently, yoga classes and film festivals. But a planned revamp (above) includes a proposal to lease space to private operators of cafes and restaurants.PHOTO: WAVERLEY COUNCIL

At the famous Bondi Beach, a grand old yellow pavilion has stood on the promenade since the 1920s and become one of Sydney's best-known landmarks.

The heritage-listed art deco building has been used for Turkish baths, formal balls, an officers' club during World War II and, more recently, yoga classes and film festivals.

But the so-called "grand old lady" is now at the centre of a bitter dispute over plans by the local Waverley Council for a A$38 million (S$38 million) revamp - the latest in a long series of battles over the city's future.

The proposal made national headlines after it prompted a "green ban" - a decision by building workers to refuse to work on the development.

The move revived memories of widespread green bans in the 1970s which have been credited with saving heritage areas and preventing developments in some of the city's best-known precincts, including The Rocks and Kings Cross.

The bans attracted international interest and inspired heritage groups and unions to pursue similar action in Britain, Europe and the US.

The Bondi ban was announced late last month by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which said it supported community concerns that the revamp will privatise parts of the pavilion.

It said union members will not support work on the site until the project has community approval.

"We will be standing side by side with the local residents to make sure that work isn't started on the project until there has been proper consultation and discussion and it's all been agreed with the stakeholders," union official Brian Parker told Fairfax Media.

"Similar to The Rocks... this will take away public space, take away people from the arts. We think it is ridiculous that the council and the mayor think they can railroad ratepayers and that it will be privatised."

The revamp includes a proposal to lease parts of the building and balcony to private operators of cafes and restaurants. Critics say it will restrict current access for community and arts projects.

A group called Save Bondi Pavilion has led protests and is holding a rally on June 26, which will include performances by local singers and artists. It has urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is the local MP, to back its calls to retain full community use of the building.

Waverley Mayor Sally Betts has defended the project, saying it will create a world-class tourist site and will include a new theatre and space for community use. But she has committed to additional community engagement before proceeding. "Bondi Pavilion expresses who we are as a community and is a vital part of our history," she said earlier this month.

"We all want to maintain this wonderful community and cultural centre and the community has clearly stated that we need to restore this heritage significant building to ensure that Bondi Pavilion is here for future generations."

Sydney, Australia's largest and oldest city, has a mixed record when it comes to preserving landmarks and iconic sites. Most of the city's Victorian-era shopping arcades have been destroyed, as have numerous art deco theatres and cinemas.

Soaring property values have made many historic sites - which tend to occupy prized real estate - a prime target for developers.

But public protests have helped to prevent several controversial developments in recent years, such as plans for a cafe and hotel in the Botanic Gardens estate two years ago, and a new stadium in Moore Park, an inner city parkland, earlier this year.

According to Waverley Council, the Bondi project is still under consideration and will be subject to planning and heritage assessment as well as community consultation.

The approvals process is expected to take about 12 months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Builders refuse to work on Bondi landmark's $38m revamp'. Print Edition | Subscribe