“This is our city’s greatest asset, its greatest tourist attraction,” Mr. Doyle said in his City Hall office. “It’s ridiculous to have it sitting empty. It must be open seven days a week.”
Mr. Doyle said that the Queen Victoria had lost 5 to 10 percent of its vendors in the past decade, and that doing nothing would lead to “a market in permanent decline.”
But the plan he and Mr. McCullough are pushing has drawn a host of dissenters who fear it will destroy the market’s character.
“I like it the way it is,” said Russell Wyss, a resident of Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne.
Mr. Wyss has been going to the market for 75 years, since he was a small child. Like many Melburnians, he and his wife have a ritual of shopping there every week, returning to trusted vendors they’ve known for decades. “We love it,” he said. “It’s open and windy and cold and honest and down to earth. A little bit grubby. I don’t want to see it lose its grungy glamour.”
The city planner, Rob Adams, one of the main architects of the new plan, said such worries were understandable. “Nostalgia is important,” he said. “You need to get a balance between continuity and change. That is a fine, delicate balance. The knowledge of how we could fail by sanitizing it is really genuine.”
The proposal includes removing the outdoor sheds for repairs and excavating the site to build a huge underground parking garage, along with amenities for vendors, like showers and refrigerated storage. Areas now used for parking and thoroughfares would become public plazas, and buildings on the periphery would be developed for shops and restaurants. The project is currently awaiting approval from the state planning minister, Richard Wynne.
Aging markets around the world have faced similar battles, and getting the updates wrong can come at a great cost. The 1971 razing of Les Halles in Paris is still regarded by many as a tragedy. In Los Angeles, the continuing revival of the downtown Grand Central Market is generally considered a success, but the oyster bars and almond-milk-latte stalls installed there in recent years make clear that the market has become a food hall rather than the workaday grocery it once was.
David K. O’Neil, a markets expert in Philadelphia who consulted on the Queen Victoria plan, said that many cities struggled to find the investment to keep their historic marketplaces alive, and that the success or failure of the Melbourne project would be held up as an international example.
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