By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A Covid-ravaged economy has delivered a “good price” in building the landmark Greater Dandenong Gallery of Art.
The contemporary public art gallery will occupy the historic Masonic Hall at 5 Mason Street, Dandenong with the addition of a “dynamic” modern extension.
Greater Dandenong councillor Matthew Kirwan said the $5.25 million winning tender from Harris HMC Interiors came in well under $8 million estimates of several years ago.
The depressed economy had given “incentive” for bidders to offer “really good prices”, he told a council meeting on 22 June.
He said the project was a “great opportunity” to house the South East’s regional art gallery, given the “too small” gallery at Bunjil Place in Narre Warren.
It would “further cement our commitment as a council to art and culture as well as being a destination gallery to bring visitors to our city”.
“Dare I say it, it will be likely to be in such demand for professional art exhibitions that I suspect we will continue to have a need for Walker Street (Gallery) as a Community Arts Centre.”
Cr Kirwan said the gallery’s economic benefits such as for cafes and restaurants “could not be underestimated”. It would be a drawcard that would improve Dandenong’s image, he said.
Harris HMC Interiors was the only one of nine shortlisted tenderers with experience of working in historic buildings and art gallery project works, according to a council report.
Some its previous projects include creating an art centre at Hawthorn’s former town hall, and a refurbishment of Parliament House.
In opposition, Cr Tim Dark said Dandenong’s residents wouldn’t make much use of the gallery. The lack of local arts scene didn’t justify the project.
The council had been “ripped off” in buying the derelict site from Development Victoria for $1, Cr Dark said.
“This building, sure it’s there, but it should have another use other than being renovated into an art gallery.”
Minor works on the gallery have begun such as restoring the Masonic Hall’s roof in 2019.
The council has allocated $1.5 million for works in the 2020-’21 budget.