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"An art form in its own right": Planning boss sells Adelaide Contemporary vision

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The head of the state’s urban renewal authority has pre-empted what looms as a major investment in a new contemporary gallery on the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site, warning that a planned luxury hotel would be untenable without the art showcase as the precinct’s centrepiece.

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The Weatherill Government last month ditched a deal with Commercial & General and John Holland to undertake a “billion-dollar” redevelopment of the 7ha ORAH precinct, opting instead to self-manage a “scaled-down” development.

Among the items to be considered was a long-mooted contemporary art gallery, consistently championed by Art Gallery of SA director Nick Mitzevich, with architectural concepts to be considered via an international design competition – although the Government hasn’t given any commitment to fund the building.

But at a briefing of East End traders last night, Renewal SA chief John Hanlon effectively described the gallery as a non-negotiable on the site – and suggested it would be down to taxpayers to fund it.

“One of the things we’ve pushed for in Renewal – and it’s not our final decision obviously, but the Premier has certainly made comments about a design competition – is an Adelaide contemporary art gallery on the site,” he said.

“We consider that’s a significant component of what we’re trying to achieve.

“It’s very much at the heart of how this whole area links up.”

And he warned the business case for commercial projects such as a five or six-star hotel would be unlikely to stack up without it.

Describing the precinct as “one of Adelaide’s gems”, Hanlon said a “hotel of an international standard of five or six stars is important to the site, and there’s a lot of interest in relation to that”.

“We’re saying – and we’re very clear about saying – that we won’t probably get a five or six-star hotel on that site unless we do something like this on the site,” he told the gathering.

“We need this sort of activity in the East End.”

He said “if we can get this off the ground”, the project had the potential to become a global tourist attraction “if the Government in the end agrees to fund something like this”.

“Currently, through our own art gallery, we’re getting about a million people a year – this will attracted another two, probably three million,” he said.

“With the Botanic Gardens having about a million people and the zoo having about a million, you can see the numbers this would attract to this particular area.

“It’s very important to the future of the site, in our view.”

He said there were ongoing discussions about “how this is managed” but added: “We’re well on the way with it.”

Hanlon likened the concept to the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

“The Louis Vuittons of the world – that’s the sort of thing we’re talking about,” he said.

“We’re not looking to buy a brand name – we’re looking to build something that’s very much about Adelaide, but in its own right it will be an art form.

“It will be something people want to come and see… it will be something that every student in Adelaide will want to come and visit.”

He said the artistic theme would incorporate the Botanic Gardens into the precinct “to create what will be a magnificent tourism attraction for SA”.

Significantly, days after the Government scrapped its arrangement with the joint venture to redevelop the site, Premier Jay Weatherill anointed himself Arts Minister in a reshuffle prompted by the resignation of Health Minister Jack Snelling, who previously held the portfolio.

Hanlon stressed he was “not saying the Government has agreed to it” but that his agency was unequivocal in its ambition and the cabinet “will consider that over the next few months”.

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