Slings and Arrows: Festival Plaza Redevelopment

Ash Whitefly delves headfirst into the plans for Adelaide’s Festival Plaza redevelopment to ask who is set to benefit from the works. Will it be State Government, the arts, the gambling industry, taxpayers, or all of the above?

R I S I N G    U P

Government plans for a $610m rejig of the old Festival Plaza (King William Road) and surrounds fell under Adelaide City Council gaze recently. Two huge new buildings are soon to rise there, but the paperwork covering 628 pages of drawings and designer-speak pretended those two didn’t have any bearing on the assessment. City Council described them as “future works that do not form part of this proposal!” Only a planning bureaucrat well versed in Yes, Minister habits could have written this: “It would be expected that applications for these future developments that directly impact on the plaza do not compromise the design quality and accessibility of the design intent.” This occurred only weeks before news broke of a new idea – a gallery for contemporary art, potentially at the site.

D W A R F I N G   D E V E L O P M E N T S

If the gallery idea gets up, it will face stiff visual competition there. The Walker Corporation’s 26-storey monster, to dwarf parliament house by 23 storeys, will dominate everything. Its adjacent ‘little brother’ is to be a 13-storey ‘hotel’ for the casino’s high rollers. Few know that it’s also a casino expansion, “including main gaming, VIP gaming and international business salons”. Curiously, the casino pile had already been approved by the Development Assessment Commission before the plaza plan fell under the council’s gaze, but its planners grimly carried on, ignoring it. The irony is that the force that has driven the plans for these commercial monuments in public spaces, a pile of commercial and gambling money, is something the arts portfolio is getting desperately short of. The only really good idea to complement the plaza is the art gallery, but the office suites and roulette wheel are out of the blocks and sprinting ahead.

Y O U   R E A D   I T   H E R E   F I R S T

Keep this to yourself. Around 2018, PR flaks plan much activity for the ‘new’ Festival Plaza. It’s to be hyped as an all-seasons hot spot for arty types and would complement a post-modern art gallery concept brilliantly. Winter ideas include an ice rink, winter hot tubs (with cocktails), a fire garden (flaming fire pots) and an inflatable wall vent (a blow-up igloo thing, offering lunch or dinner). A lucky dip is to be a public performance bound to baffle (“is it a cult; is it a band?”). Could it be a political party posturing for a 2018 election? No-one’s saying. Spring plans include chainsaw art (“artists use chainsaws to sculpt the art”), a howlaween dog parade (“dress yourself and your dog: get sewing now”), and a giant yellow bunny, to be illuminated nightly. Is it a symbol for the average Adelaide punter, whose taxes will be directed at all of this? When summer heats up, potential Plaza gigs include a foam party (“foam machines scattered along the forecourt”), a waterslide, and a wood chopping show (“great big men from the country”). That language is bound to provoke an instant appeal by the Equal Opportunity mafia and possibly a s18c discrimination uproar. PR hacks might contemplate running the legal show at the plaza. Could be crafted as a charade performance (as many judicial events are), complete with barristers in wigs and gowns, fresh from the foam party. But the most fascinating event will run in autumn – the ‘super night shot gob squad’ – “a magical journey through the night streets of a not-too-distant-city. The public becomes co-stars in a movie celebrating unplanned meetings with strangers and randomness.” That might describe how the entire site plan got up – including the sudden new idea for the gallery. Ashley Whitefly is Executive Director of the Adelaide Whitefly Institute of Diplomatic Studies

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