Atwell Arcade to get its biggest makeover in a century

Last night the Freo Council held a special meeting of council and granted planning approval  for the redevelopment of buildings in and around Atwell Arcade which run from the High Street Mall to Cantonment Street in Fremantle.

This is a major redevelopment and is not surprisingly attracting some controversy so i thought it would be worth explaining our decision in some detail.

First I want to say decisions like this are hard but in an 11-1 vote i think Council made the right call in overwhelmingly approving this for a couple of key reasons.

First – is it is a good heritage outcome. While the Atwell Arcade itself will be largely demolished and rebuilt we are in reality not losing much authentic heritage stock. While the arcade might look old to the untrained eye most of it is relatively new as in 1979 Atwell’s arcade was renovated and substantially altered.

The proposed development includes major conservation of the buildings at 120 High Street and 3 Cantonment Street. The size and prominent locations of these buildings means that the works have the potential, if undertaken correctly, not only to ensure the survival of these buildings but also to improve their settings in High Street and Cantonment Street It is proposed that Atwell Buildings (112-122 High Street) be retained and its interior and exterior conserved. Works will include the restoration and reconstruction of the external facades of the building. This will involve stripping all paints and cement renders from the walls to reinstate the original finishes, all in accordance with good conservation practice. It is also proposed that the upper floor be adapted, in part to retain existing uses but also for the introduction of a new use as tearooms. Similarly it is proposed that the commercial building at 3 Cantonment Street be retained and its interior and exterior conserved.

As the independent Fremantle Design Advisory Committee (DAC) stated:  “The committee is satisfied that with conditions applied to the approval. The City will achieve a high quality outcome in the conservation and restoration of the arcade and the two highly valued heritage buildings bounding the site. The overall development should breathe much needed new life into a key destination of the city and stimulate further investment in the city core”

This brings us to the second reason – it is a great economic outcome for  central Freo.  The construction of the four storey (with basement) multiple-use development will include office and quality retail components in what will be a much-needed boost to Fremantle’s High Street Mall precinct. The development has the potential to bring significant activity to the area in the form of up to 300 office workers and high-quality retail offerings. That is more workers than are in the City of Freo building in the Freo CBD. The development clearly aligns well with the City’s broader revitalisation strategy.

Freo’s future will be best served when heritage and economics come to together as the was so well put in the heritage report for this development:

The West End is an area of heritage significance and its heritage values are embodied in the distinctive qualities of its inherited urban form and built fabric. The West End should be conserved for present and future generations in ways that will best sustain its heritage values, while recognising opportunities to reveal or reinforce those values. This will not be achieved if Fremantle does not have sustainable economic growth. To achieve this Fremantle must compensate for the losses caused by the decline of its port related industries by developing new ways of persuading people to come back to the centre of the City to live, work and socialize. It is not the aim of conservation for the West End to become solely a memorial of the past, nor would it be desirable, instead it is to re-establish its historic character as a lively, successful, multi-layered urban centre. This is likely to require new forms of urban expression for the new types of trade, commerce and socializing to conserve and at the same time enrich the historic character of the area.

Or to put it simply – the best way to sustain the heritage values of a place is to keep it in active and economically viable use.

Mr Henry Atwell (1831 – 1908) arrived in WA as a convict on board the Merchantman’s first journey in 1863 after being sentenced to life. He made good and built the original Atwell Arcade as a proudly modern building. I like to think he’d approve of this latest evolution.

atwell arcade l

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

3 Responses to Atwell Arcade to get its biggest makeover in a century

  1. Steve Wells says:

    Hi Brad

    I expect there will be much controversy over the decision. One could argue that the loss of 1979 renovated buildings constitutes heritage destruction or that it’s the thin edge of the wedge. For me it seems to be a good outcome if it injects new life into the CBD and in particular an area which is currently (to me) underutilized.

    Potentially good news for Fremantle.



  2. An area that will benefit well from some focus and energy. Great work council. Another great step in the positive change/s to Freo.


  3. Pingback: The Atwell Arcade’s Biggest Makeover in a Century Almost Complete | City of Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt's Blog

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