The purchase of the brewer’s headquarters follows years of lobbying by two of Melbourne’s biggest arts venues: the National Gallery of Victoria for a third gallery, NGV Contemporary, and Arts Centre Melbourne, for a national performing arts gallery.
The CUB site at 77 Southbank Boulevard sits on the corner of Sturt Street, which borders the rear of NGV International.
CUB, now controlled by the world’s biggest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, has owned and occupied the six-storey, 61,000 square metre building since the early 1990s.
The property was refurbished at a cost of $18 million in 2014 under then parent company SABMiller, bringing in employees from its South Melbourne and Abbotsford site on to the building’s fourth and fifth floors.
CUB will lease the building back from the state government while plans are finalised.
The CUB site was listed in the previous state government’s Arts Precinct Blueprint in 2013 as a potential strategic project, as was the nearby vacant lot at 1 City Road, behind the Arts Centre. The lot has been used as an arts venue, called Testing Grounds. It was created as a temporary space but has hosted events for the past five years.
“The process of purchase has taken place,” he said. “What happens thereafter will be considered in line with the budget.”
“The Victorian government has purchased the CUB site at 77 Southbank Boulevard given its strategic location in this precinct.
“We have a well-known long term vision for a permanent home for the Australian Performing Arts Collection, where it can be more readily accessible to the people of Victoria and visitors to Melbourne,” it said on Tuesday. “That continues to be our aspiration.”
A spokeswoman said the ABNs were created as part of an updating in documentation “to reflect the shift in name from Performing Arts Collection/Gallery to the Australian Performing Arts Collection/Gallery, which happened in the last six months”.
In 2014, NGV director Tony Ellwood launched a fundraising campaign to boost the amount of contemporary art in its collection.
A third, contemporary gallery has long been mooted for the NGV, including by Mr Ellwood’s predecessor, Gerard Vaughan.
The gallery has boosted its contemporary collections significantly, commissioning works from some of the world’s best known contemporary artists – such as Ai Weiwei and David Hockney – as part of recent blockbuster shows.
Mr Ellwood returned to the NGV in 2012 from Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art, where his canny programming saw the Brisbane institution outperform its southern rivals in 2011, drawing more visitors than the NGV or Art Gallery of NSW.
Under his management the NGV has cracked the list of the top world’s 20 most-visited galleries, drawing a record audience of 2.8 million last financial year.