For 90 years, the Nicholas Building on Swanston Street has been a hub for some of Melbourne’s best creative talents.
But rent increases in the order of 30 per cent may force a number of tenants to leave the building – and the city centre.
Sculptor Nicholas Jones, who makes his art from discarded books, said an increase of $100 a month – from $840 to $940 per month – means he will need to divide his space and find another tenant to make ends meet.
“If the rent increases continue, the small creative businesses which are crucial to the character of this city will move out and the city will lose out financially as well as creatively,” he said.
More than 100 artists who rent space in the Nicholas Building have been served with rent increase notices, with those with the best views on the southern side facing the steepest rises. Rents have more than doubled over the past decade, nothwithstanding major renovations and improvements to the building.
One long-term tenant, who asked not to be named, paid $725 a month in 1994. From August 1, he faces a monthly bill of $2222, up from $1679.
Stephen Giblett, a painter who has been in the Nicholas Building for 10 years, said he is left with no option but to move out, as his rent has more than doubled in the past decade.
“I will be forced to downsize at a time in my career when I would hope to expand. I do not know exactly where I will be going after this,” he said.
“I was notified in a letter that rent was being adjusted to suit the market value of the property. I do not accept their recent increase as fair, as I would hope that it would happen more gradually.”
The heritage-listed Nicholas Building was designed by architect Harry Norris and completed in 1926. It was modelled on US commercial buildings of the period, drawing influence from Renaissance palazzo form and Greek revival styling. It is noted for its hybrid structure that includes a glazed leadlight barrel vaulted arcade at ground level that makes up the Cathedral Arcade, linking Swanston Street and Flinders Lane.
The building’s well-known lift attendant, Joan McQueen, retired after 35 years in 2012. Since then, there have been significant renovations including replacing the ageing elevators, improving security and completely renovating the bathrooms.
Some of its famous tenants have included the late Vali Myers and author Gregory David Roberts, who wrote Shantaram there.
Melbourne City councillor Rohan Leppert said the council would like to see the building retain its position as a “supportive and affordable space for artists” but said the council cannot compel private landlords to cap rents.
Some tenants have accepted the rent increases as “reasonable”. Stephen McLaughlan, who has had his eponymous gallery in the building for 20 years, said the Nicholas Building was pretty empty when he moved in and rent was “cheap”.
“It is now virtually full and rent is closer to market levels. Recently the lifts and toilets have undergone major, necessary upgrades. Security and technology issues have been addressed. All have been done in accord with UNESCO heritage conventions and with architectural flair – I have been impressed.”
He said the best way to ensure its future as an arts hub was for Melburnians to support the artists who work there.
“If Melbourne [residents want] their galleries, bookshops, milliners and the like to survive and prosper – be our customers so we can pay our overheads.”