A new community group has launched on the back of the “incredible groundswell” of opposition to the Victorian Government deal to build an Apple store at Federation Square.
The state government announced just before Christmas that it had signed a contract for the global tech giant to build its first flagship store in the southern hemisphere at the coveted public space in the Melbourne CBD.
The deal would involve the demolition of the existing Yarra building to make way for the Apple store.
The government has said no public money would go towards the store, but details of the lucrative lease have not been released.
It said the Apple store will be smaller than the existing building, creating more public space and better access to the river.
The planning amendments for the new store were approved without public consultation, and few details of the agreement have been made public.
The plan was met with widespread public anger over the privatisation of public space and a lack of community consultation.
The state Greens have now moved a motion in Parliament to revoke the store’s planning approval unless the government reconsiders its design, while the City of Melbourne council has unanimously approved a motion to lobby upper house members to support the Greens’ push.
Numerous petitions quickly emerged opposing the store, and three of the organisers behind these have now joined together to form a grassroots community group: Citizens for Melbourne.
The group’s first campaign is “Our City, Our Square” and will fight to stop the Apple store at Federation Square and relocate it to elsewhere in the Melbourne CBD.
Its founding members include Hootville Communications founder Brett de Hoedt, OpenHAUS director Tania Davidge, and urbanist and researcher James Lesh.
“The goal is to protect, preserve and promote public spaces in Melbourne. You couldn’t get a better example of that not happening than with the Apple store at Fed Square,” Mr de Hoedt told InnovationAus.com.
“We’re not anti-Apple, but we want it relocated somewhere proper where a shop should go.”
Citizens for Melbourne will organise online campaigns, protests and lobbying politicians of all parties. The group said it is not associated with any political party.
“We want to be constantly a headache for the government and then we have to focus attention on the upper house. Every single member of the upper house is going to know us soon,” Mr de Hoedt said.
“We’ll be meeting with significant people in Spring Street, and lobbying all other groups out there that are very disparate. There’s been no-one to bring them together to put pressure on the government, so that’s our role.”
Prior to its official launch, the Citizens for Melbourne group facilitated more than 800 submissions from the general public to the Melbourne City Council, a testament to the store’s lack of support among the community, Mr de Hoedt said.
“There’s a huge resentment over the lack of consultation. People really resent a major corporation doing a secret deal with a government over a public space. We have an incredible groundswell of support and it’s an election year.”
He said he is “optimistic” of the chances of the state government rethinking the deal.
Premier Daniel Andrews addressed the issue on ABC Melbourne on Tuesday morning, arguing that the store would be good for the city and for Federation Square’s commercial prospects.
“If Fed Square did not generate some income it’d have to be funded elsewhere in the state government, it’d be money from hospitals and schools,” Mr Andrews said.
“We’re working with the City of Melbourne to get some changes to the design, to get a balanced outcome and hopefully we’ll be able to report progress soon.”
“The Apple store has a smaller footprint than the current building, will open up access to the river, will employ hundreds of people in construction and hundreds of people in an ongoing way.
“Fed Square is a very special place but the notion that it’s not in any way commercial – it already has significant commercial activity. There’s a pub there, there are restaurants and there are bars.”
But Mr de Hoedt said an Apple store at Federation Square is very different to the existing hospitality options.
“We are not anti-commercial activity in Fed Square, but there’s a world of difference between a coffee, a glass of wine or dropping into a gallery and with an Apple megastore that will bring two million people a year to one store.
“The rest of Fed Square will end up being a lobby for the Apple store,” Mr de Hoedt said.