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Southbank’s transformation into a thriving arts hub that oozes cool at every corner

By Georgina Shanahan

From industrial hub to vibrant arts and entertainment district, Southbank’s evolution has been as rapid as it is dramatic.

Occupying just 1.7 square kilometres on the southern bank of the Yarra River, the once-industrial area has been transformed into a lively hub where vertical living coexists happily with the city’s marquee entertainment names.

The Arts Centre with its iconic spire was an early arrival in 1984, later joined by Crown Casino, the Melbourne Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre, the Ian Potter Southbank Centre and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Southbank is also home to some of the city’s most in-demand restaurants, including Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill and Rosetta.

For Johanna Foster, who lives in the Gippsland town of Sale but owns a two-bedroom Southbank apartment as a base for Melbourne visits, the suburb’s walkability is key.

Foster and her husband Matt bought their apartment 10 years ago, choosing Southbank because “it’s so close to the city but it isn’t actually in the city”.

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art is a prominent arts institution in Southbank. Photo: Leigh Henningham

“And we just really love the whole Southbank river area because there’s always something happening, even if it’s just wandering along and seeing the buskers.”

The addition of a full-service supermarket – recently opened as part of the new Melbourne Square development – has also been a boon for the family.

“Before we had to go to Clarendon Street in South Melbourne or the South Melbourne Market to do our shopping, which is a bit of a drag when you’ve got kids in tow,” she says. “Not that we really end up cooking that much when we’re in Melbourne because there are so many great cafes and restaurants close by.”

Popular local spots include fine dining options Nobu and Spice Temple in the Crown Complex, trendy bars such as Waterslide Bar and Patient Wolf Distilling Co., and Bondstore cafe, located in one of Melbourne’s original warehouses.

Nobu is a popular fine dining option in Southbank, specialising in fresh Japanese cuisine. Photo: Supplied

With a population of just less than 19,000 (at the last census) predicted to increase to more than 50,000 by 2036, Southbank is one of Australia’s fastest-growing suburbs.

It’s the home of the high-rise, but agents say Southbank developers have learned the lessons of the early years when design, especially at the street level, was neglected. New planning controls adopted by the City of Melbourne aim to boost the suburb’s cultural credentials by requiring future developments to include arts and cultural uses in the lower floors, which promises to add further activation.

The arrival of new parks, including a public park at Melbourne Square and the new linear park that has taken over road space along Southbank Boulevard – the area’s “spine” – is greening the `hood and inviting residents to spend more time outdoors.

Real estate agent Christine Saw of First National Avant says the area is attracting renewed interest from young buyers looking to dip their toe in the market.

The arrival of new parks is greening the area and inviting residents to spend more time outdoors. Photo: Greg Briggs

“Renters are contacting us saying that with the cost of money so low, it would be cheaper to have a mortgage on a one or two-bedroom apartment than to pay rent, and the Southbank area is so great for young people who love to go out to socialise,” she says.

“They save money by buying an apartment without a car space and just rely on a bicycle or walking everywhere, and they rent a share car when they really need one.”

Stamp duty concessions currently available on new properties within City of Melbourne postcodes, which can be used in conjunction with first-home buyer grants and other offers, are further enhancing the appeal for buyers. A 50 per cent concession on stamp duty is available on new homes worth under $1 million, and if that home has remained unsold for 12 months or more since completion, the stamp duty is waived entirely.

Southbank is great for young people who love to go out to trendy restaurants, like Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar and Grill. Photo: Supplied

Tommy-Lee Davies of Ray White Southbank & Port Phillip says the pandemic has shown the benefits of living in postcode 3006.

“Even when you’re confined to a five-kilometre radius, you’ve got everything you need if you live around here,” he says. “Typically, it’s an area where young people are getting into the market – it’s about a mindset that you don’t want to move to an outer suburb but want to remain in the thick of all the city has to offer.

“Living in the arts precinct, you really can’t go wrong – all you have to do is walk out your front door to see something new.”


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