Ocean Baths out to Lease?

Filed under Commercial & Tourism, Throsby ~ by Throsby on  1 Nov 2019

Redevelopment of Newcastle Ocean Baths pavilion and car park underway.

The paint is peeling off the walls and door frames. The toilets stink. Homeless people camp under the archways. A greasy takeaway sells overpriced ham-and-cheese rolls.”

Thus spake former Waverly Mayor Betts, defending her council’s $38 million plan to privatise large areas within the Bondi Beach pavilion building.

In that famous confrontation, high-profile Australians came to the public venue’s defence, even Jack Mundey of Sydney’s green ban fame.

But, as former Newcastle Mayor McCloy famously reminded us:

The private sector is great at this stuff."

City of Newcastle’s offering is not quite in the “ripping off ratepayers” category, although the devil might yet be in the detail.

The Ocean Baths comprise separate men’s and women’s change areas on each wing, a kiosk area at the central entry archway, and a caretakers “cottage” above.

Unlike the grand Bondi Pavilion with its theatre and generous community rooms, it would seem there is not a lot to argue about.

Or is there? 

You see, Throsby (as always) laments the loss to gentrification of yet another fond reminder of our graceful city’s rough edges, the worn surfaces and weathered structures that connect us so intimately to the past.

The façade

The 1922 façade was renovated a decade ago and, one assumes, all financial responsibility for subsequent “improvements” lie with the successful lessee.

It is not just any old façade, but a carefully crafted Federation free-classical style designed in 1922 by local architect F. G. Castelden, who had a hand in Newcastle Cathedral, the Newcastle Club, and Argyle House, amongst many.

The Art Deco – stripped classical bathing pavilion sets an appropriate stage for the pursuit of bathing and swimming; in a city uniquely nestled between harbour and sea.

The central tower of the pavilion is a study in the Art Deco movement while the baths themselves have been skillfully formed from a wave cut rock platform.

~ NCC Ocean Baths described

Therefore the facing view of this grand feature will stand to remind us that architects once valued grace, style, ornament, and eloquence.

Tenders called

Five years after floating the idea, at 6pm on 1 November 2019, City of Newcastle called for “expressions of interest” to:

…redevelop the iconic Newcastle and Merewether Ocean Baths pavilions in overhauls that could include restaurants, recreational and community facilities and other services.”

Concept of one possible Newcastle Ocean Baths redevelopment, preserving the front wall. Image by architects GHDWoodhead

The Ocean Bath’s art deco exterior will be kept in any redevelopment, while new public change rooms, disabled access, car parking, new seating, shading and other community facilities are mandatory inclusions at both sites.

Most significant – who would think otherwise – the EOI states the baths must always remain free public assets.

Redevelopment of Newcastle and Merewether Ocean Baths pavilions is an exciting opportunity to rejuvenate and enhance public assets by capitalising on Newcastle’s unprecedented growth in a long-term partnership with the City,” Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

The City is committed to improving public and community spaces along our coastline, and a commercial partnership could allow us to significantly enhance and manage these precious facilities in a financially responsible way.”

Leased areas comprise 5,800sqm of space at Newcastle Ocean Baths and 2,200sqm at the Merewether pavilion, for up to 21 years.

City of Newcastle Infrastructure Director Ken Liddell said councillors had made it clear they considered the ocean baths the No.1 infrastructure priority.

“Our staff have spent the past six months developing the EOI, as well as resolving a number of potential issues that exist because the baths sit on crown land,” he said.

We are now able to take the projects to the market.

Potential uses under zoning regulations for both baths include restaurants, cafes or kiosks, community facilities, and educational facilities or other recreation purposes.

The EOI will be followed by a tender process for shortlisted respondents before a lease is signed with the City, which is the Reserve Trust Manager of both buildings for the Crown Lands Division of the NSW Government.

The successful lessees will be required to provide some facilities managed by the City, so it can continue to provide lifeguard and pool-cleaning services plus community spaces.

Parties interested in these redevelopments will have to outline their proposed partnership or joint-venture arrangements, concept plans and previous experience with developments of similar scope and scale.

Proponents will have to comply with heritage controls as the Newcastle Ocean Baths are listed as a local heritage item in the Newcastle Local Environmental Plan 2012 and located within the Newcastle East Heritage Conservation Area.”

The Ocean Bath inside view – shabby, as Throsby loves things. Image by CofN

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