AFR Feature: Essendon Fields to retrofit historic air terminal

by Michael Bleby Published in AFR October 24, 2019

The Rich List Beck and Fox families will spend $4 million renovating Essendon Airport’s historic main arrival hall into new office space to tap demand for smaller tenancies in the Essendon Fields business park.

Building 72, the arrival hall through which the Beatles passed on their 1964 tour of Australia and in which Kylie Minogue filmed the clip for her 1988 hit Locomotion, will be converted into 1100sq m of office space in a project due to complete next year.

Artist’s render of the retrofitted office space inside Essendon Fields’ historic terminal building.

“That building is a heritage building, steeped in history,” said chief executive Brendan Pihan of the hall, which opened in 1959.

“But buildings change over time, so often do their uses. As aviation demand has changed and Essendon Fields has continued to evolve it makes sense that buildings like that are repurposed and renewed.”

While there are no precommitted tenants for the 11 tenancies that will range from 60sq m to 300sq m in size, Essendon Fields had already received approaches from 16 different businesses for the space.

The level of interest showed the demand for smaller tenancies, said Mr Pihan, who took over as chief executive from Chris Cowan in May.

The renovation, which will boost the number of workers based in the terminal building to 400 from 170, marks the second stage of a development that saw Essendon Fields’ owners spend $4.4 million to renovate air facilities at the still-active airport terminal, which processes 40,000 mostly regional air passengers a year.

The first-stage redevelopment created 1000sq m of office space on the mezzanine level of the building designed by Percy Everett of the Commonwealth Public Works Department, as well as upgrading the check-in, mechanical baggage-handling systems and lounge facilities.

The main entrance gate for passengers to the terminal has been moved to the northern end of the building.

Users of the new space will benefit from the existing floor-to-ceiling windows that offer vews across the runways to the city.

Like nearby Melbourne Airport, Essendon Fields – which Max Beck and Lindsay Fox took over in 2001 on a 99-year lease – is seeking to make its existing infrastructure and vast land holdings more profitable on the back of the growing Victorian economy. It aims to double its $1 billion value by 2026.

The wider Essendon Fields precinct already has 6000 workers and is counting on the rents, priced between $350 and $500 a square metre, to boost that population, Mr Pihan said.

“That is why there’s such great demand for this small space here,” he said. “It’s affordable, flexible and as those businesses grow at a place like this we can help them expand into a large tenancy over time.”