Opposition to Apple’s planned global flagship store in Melbourne’s Federation Square has not subsided in the seven months since revised designs were released to the public. Now, Melbourne’s city council has spoken out against proposed changes to the square that many citizens argue would irreparably disrupt the cultural fabric of the space.

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During a Future Melbourne Committee meeting held on March 5th, councilors and representatives from local organizations voiced their opinions about Federation Square management’s permit application to demolish the Yarra Building, a cultural center noted for its polarizing desconstructivist architecture. The demolition permit comes despite an interim protection order issued last August in response to Apple’s imminent construction plans. The order was issued with the goal of listing Federation Square on the Victorian Heritage Register, a move that could make significant changes to the site nearly impossible.

In addition to over 100,000 petition signatures rejecting an Apple store, 1,100 opposing submissions were received by the city council leading up to the meeting. Only one submission expressed approval. A representative of the “Our City, Our Square” campaign noted that Federation Square has become the “physical manifestation and identity of what Melbourne is,” and that the space is used as a backdrop for news reports, signage, and tourism. The group feels that Apple’s store will not contribute to the character of the square and has no relation to the heritage of Melbourne.

Following a vote, all but one Melbourne councilor agreed to oppose demolition of the Yarra Building. “It is not just a numbers game … but none of us are blind to the opinion and sentiment that has been expressed over the last few days and shouted in our direction,” one member added.

Federation Square

With consideration of the city council’s recommendation, the future of Federation Squares lies in the hands of Heritage Victoria, who will ultimately decide if the demolition permit application is approved or rejected. A timeline for the decision hasn’t been established, but an announcement could be weeks or months away. Yesterday, original Federation Square architect Peter Davidson said he would support the plan if Apple chose to move into the Yarra Building instead of demolishing it.

Following Apple’s original store announcement in December 2017, much of the project’s initial criticism appeared to target the Apple brand itself rather than the specifics of the building design and its greater impact on Victorian heritage. Recent opposition has been more sympathetic to Apple as a valuable business partner for Melbourne, taking issue only with the precise location of the proposed store. Councilors and citizens alike have expressed their interest in a flagship Apple Store in Melbourne as long as it is not located in Federation Square.

The sentiment is nearly identical to feedback received in Stockholm, Sweden, where plans for a smaller Apple Store in a historic city park recently collapsed due to government opposition. Instead of choosing to relocate, Apple has declined to compromise and instead wishes to sell its plot back to the city and abandon plans for a store in Stockholm altogether. It remains to be seen if Apple would be willing to choose less desirable real estate in Melbourne.

You can view the full Future Melbourne Committee meeting here.

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