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Hotel Windsor set for $325m makeover

1/03/2014 Jason Dowling
Hotel Windsor... set to receive a revamp to the tune of $325 million. © Ruth Duncan Hotel Windsor... set to receive a revamp to the tune of $325 million.

It is Australia's last grand hotel, has hosted royalty, prime ministers and movie stars and is one of the oldest Victorian-era hotels operating in the world.

Melbourne's Windsor Hotel was once somewhere that mattered - a $325million redevelopment plans to make it matter again.

Adipoetra Halim, the 36-year-old owner, wants the Windsor to be "the Raffles of Melbourne", a hotel synonymous with the city, a destination to be marketed.

Redevelopment of the Windsor has been one of Victoria's most controversial planning issues of recent years.

Days before Christmas the final approvals were given for the city-changing redevelopment and work is expected to begin in November.

The 27-storey tower that will sit behind the refurbished hotel smashes the 23-metre discretionary height limit for the Bourke Hill precinct and it took 15 months to get heritage approval for renovating the interior.

Much of the current interior of the Windsor will go to bring the new hotel up to the luxury standards high-end travellers expect in 2014.

The adjoining building on the corner of Bourke and Spring streets - the former Hard Rock Cafe site - will also go.

The grand ballroom, six heritage suites and the grand staircase are among the few vestiges of the old Windsor that will remain.

The Halim Group has appointed British designer, David Collins Studio, to be in charge of the internal renovations and hopes to have the first guests in the new Windsor by the end of 2017.

Windsor Hotel chief executive David Perry said renovation would make the hotel a destination, an exception to homogenous five-star hotels widely available.

"We want the Windsor to be a unique experience, something people come to Melbourne to experience, we want it to be like Raffles in Singapore - to be on your bucket list," he said.

Mr Halim, who originates from Indonesia and fell in love with Melbourne while studying architecture here, said he wants to run a hotel that people remember.

"It was the best, it was built to be the best, and it will be the best again," he said.

At times, Mr Halim said his family in Indonesia questioned his commitment to restoring the Windsor - but his belief has remained firm.

After purchasing the hotel in 2005, the Halim Group had planned a moderate refurbishment of $45 million to the tired hotel.

It quickly became clear that $87 million would need to be spent and would add no more capacity, so the much bigger redevelopment plan was hatched to make the hotel commercially viable.

The costs of the tricky major redevelopment have also grown from early estimates of $260 million to $325million.

The hotel will go from 180 rooms to 281 rooms at a time when demand for hotel beds in Melbourne is booming.

Mr Perry said the Windsor had record visitor numbers in January and February above 90 per cent and hotel occupancy across Melbourne was at very high levels.

Melbourne Airport reported a big jump of international arrivals in January - up 11 per cent - to reach a record monthly total of 755,017 international passengers.

While the need for more hotel rooms is clear, some have questioned what will be lost with the Windsor makeover.

Architectural historian for the group Melbourne Heritage Action, Rohan Storey, said the redevelopment would make the new Windsor a "vastly different experience for hotel guests".

"The last grand hotel in Australia will be compromised and become a historical section of a modern hotel," he said.

"It will be a very different place... the six heritage suites will be the only old rooms left," he said.

"Everything else will be new, including the lounge where you have afternoon tea, and the lobby will be new," he said.

Others have raised concerns about the impact of the 27-storey tower on the parliamentary precinct - other developers are already using the Windsor redevelpment as a precedent to argue for taller buildings in the area.

Mr Halim said he understood concerns about the redevelopment and enlisted top designers and architects to create the new hotel, including world class architects Denton Corker Marshall.

He said there was no point in another "cookie cutter hotel".

New York has its Waldorf Astoria , Paris has its Ritz, and Melbourne will have its Windsor, he says.

"We want the Windsor to be the best hotel in Australia, one of the world's great hotels," Mr Halim said.


Hotel Windsor © Provided by The Age Hotel Windsor
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