The CBD’s main arts centre, the Nicholas Building on Swanston St, is still under threat and there is no clear message from agents about its sale.
The building is home to over 200 small art practices and new ones are opening almost daily.
Just three weeks ago, a second-hand bookstore opened on the fourth floor.
But there is no assurance about the building’s future with an attempt by the Greens to have it purchased by the state government defeated in parliament in March.
Green MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell was on the campaign trail last month to save the building.
“I wouldn’t call it an old growth forest, but there is an ecosystem here,” she said. “It’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
She said the building should be protected for the common good. “I want to make the future of the building an electoral issue.”
The Nicholas Building went up for sale last October with invited expressions of interest of around $80 million.
Allard Shelton manager Joe Walton told CBD News that an announcement would be made in December, but the building is still on the market.
Another tender is believed to have just been completed and, according to Nicholas Building Association co-director Dario Vacirca, the owners want the building to retain its current purpose.
“We had due diligence from the City of Melbourne and investors willing to pay most of the price,” he said. “We are asking the state government to contribute the rest.”
Ms Sandell estimated the shortfall would be less than $10 million. So far, the state government has not responded positively to the proposal.
Mr Vacirca admits that the current business model is working well and that originality and self-determination are the hallmarks of the building, but he fears that new owners will turn it into apartments.
Joseph Gleeson moved into a room on the fourth floor to write poetry. Three weeks ago, he decided to sell second-hand books from his room to help pay the rent. All books are priced at $7.50.
He doesn’t have a business plan. His ideas are essentially literary. He can tell you that Ali Smith, one of his authors, was in a poetry group and that it is difficult to obtain books by Kafka, Camus, Dostoyevsky and Marquez who are his biggest sellers.
Ever since Complete Works closed on the first floor shortly before lockdown, there has been a void in enlightened CBD culture.
Sticky Institute, the beloved zine publisher, also moved from Campbell Arcade, bringing the building’s total to three bookstores and one library.
“We spent our 21st anniversary here,” said Luke Sinclair, coordinator of the Sticky Institute, from his new premises on the eighth floor. “The arcade will be closed for two years while they revamp the design.”
The recent boom in bookshops adds to a complement of 10 galleries, as well as jewelers, artists, architects and tailors who occupy small spaces but have a big impact on the city’s culture •