A grand old classical church that shut down in 2010 and was converted into a vast private residence may soon reopen its doors as a hub for a new congregation of up to 250 office workers.
After years of fire and brimstone about various plans, controversy and even battles at the altar of the NSW Land and Environment Court over the Sydney building, a previous approval to turn it into apartments may now give way to commercial use.
Owner venture capitalist Mark Carnegie, together with developers Cornerstone Property Group, have put forward their joint-venture proposal for the former First Church of Christ Scientist in Darlinghurst – although some neighbours are still praying they’re rejected.
“There’s been a lot of angst about the church prior to us being involved around previous development applications (DAs) and court cases,” says Adam Haddow of architects SJB who drew up the new plans. “But the best thing is that the church would be opened up again so people will be able to go in and see it rather than it just being a private space.
“It would be wonderful to give it back some ‘public-ness’ and, keeping it with one owner as a whole, it’s more likely that a heritage building will be better maintained.
“It’s a remarkable space, with a fantastic volume that you don’t usually get so close to the city.”
The church, on a vast 2000 square metres of land on the corner of Liverpool and Forbes streets, is a well-known local landmark. It dates back to 1927 when it was built in the interwar Beaux Arts style by renowned Australian architect Samuel George Thorp, one of the founders of leading firm Peddle, Thorp and Walker.
It’s a stunningly formal building in the classical Roman and Greek forms, with a symmetrical masonry frontage, curves, ornamental arches and prominent columns.
SJB’s $13-million plans involve it being adapted for re-use as office premises with a new two-storey addition to the eastern wing, a new rooftop terrace and basement car parking for nine.
Mr Carnegie bought the building in 2010 for $8.75 million and created a single cavernous apartment for himself inside. He retained the large orchestral-style organ in the church, considered one of the most important post World War I historic organs in Australia, and it will stay, and continue to be maintained.
But neighbour Dr Tim Brooker, a traffic and transport specialist, is protesting the new plans which he says show more than 200 workstations in various areas around the building.
“This intensification of the proposed commercial use to occupy the entire site is clearly unacceptable given the residential zoning of the site and the surrounding streets in this area of Darlinghurst,” he said.
“It will impact on the existing quiet residential amenity and heritage character of the surrounding streets in this area of Darlinghurst, which is effectively a historic residential heritage conservation zone that is defined as the ‘Darlinghurst Ridge’.
“Although this area is close to the Sydney CBD it is not within the CBD and the NSW Government’s travel statistics still show about 20 per cent of all persons working in this area normally drive a car to work, so there will be potentially up to 40 additional persons trying to drive or park a car on the street in this area every weekday if the expanded commercial development is approved, not to mention the likely commercial visitor daytime car parking usage.”
President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage and Residents Society Andrew Woodhouse is joining in the lobbying of the City of Sydney Council to have the application thrown out.
“This is heritage heresy,” he said. “Heritage laws are being breached and the heritage rules must be upheld.”
But Cornerstone director Michael Grant, whose company has won awards for its re-adaptation of heritage buildings such as Cleveland & Co in Redfern, and Griffiths Teas and No 1 Lacey, both in Surry Hills, said restoring the church to its former glory and running it as a commercial enterprise would ensure the best heritage outcome possible.
“The grandeur of the space is remarkable and the building is extraordinary,” he said.
“Mark [Carnegie] has a DA approved for apartments but this is a wonderful opportunity to take the building back to how it was, with the spaces used instead for people in creative, high-tech, advertising or the entertainment business.
“And this proposal is less in height that what’s already been approved, so it’s smaller than the envelope that’s been agreed previously.”
The plan is for the building to be retained by Cornerstone and Mr Carnegie and leased out to up to four well-established businesses as a prestige building, with end-of-trip facilities. It’s believed that its proximity to public transport, with the Kings Cross and Museum train stations and buses at Oxford Street’s Taylor Square, will mean that most tenants won’t drive in.
“This is just a real opportunity to do something very special for this building,” said Mr Grant, “and we’re all very passionate about it.”
The plans are on exhibition with the council for feedback until February 5.