First look: Paddington’s arthouse Verona cinema to become $100m office block

An Oxford Street landmark in Sydney’s east, the former Palace Verona art house cinema, is set to be transformed into a $100 million upmarket office complex with retail and rooftop dining. Having been officially opened in a star-spangled event by Nicole Kidman and her then husband Tom Cruise on Valentine’s Day 1996, the site was closed down last December for redevelopment, with the Palace chain planning to reopen the cinema at the Entertainment Quarter.

It will now re-emerge at its 17 Oxford Street address as an eight-level, 3500 square metre, state-of-the-art site that will be the first large-scale commercial office offering along the popular eastern suburbs strip.

The site was bought by private development companies WT Malouf February in 2021 from previous owner Robert Bleakley, founder of Sotheby’s Australia Fine Art, for $30.8 million.

It was built in 1946, starting its life as an industrial facility before eventually becoming the iconic cinema. The historic former industrial brick facade will be retained.

Named Verona in a nod to the building’s cinematic heritage, the project will be aligned with City of Sydney council’s vision to “revitalise the creative and cultural precinct” and be underpinned by commercial property.

Designed by architecture practice Scott Carver, Verona will feature two levels of sub-terranean cinema spaces and cultural retail on the ground floor. Four levels of commercial office space will sit below a 620 square metre rooftop which earmarked as a destination restaurant and bar. “This project is an amazing opportunity to reinvent and redefine the next generation of cultural experiences on Oxford Street,” Doug Southwell, project architect and co-managing director of Scott Carver, said. “It anchors the eastern end of the City of Sydney’s Oxford Street renewal and will help people rediscover one of Sydney’s most creative and culturally significant areas.”

The new mid-rise tower sits adjacent to the 25 Hours Hotel with 109 rooms, being developed by Central Element and Boston Global, which is set to open in December. Oxford House is also nearby at 21 Oxford Street and features a 56-room hotel with a courtyard pool, poolside bar and all-day diner.

The council and developers are focused on offering office space in prime suburban precinct as more people opt to work closer to home.

Leasing agents for the new Verona, Mercer Property and Knight Frank, said early enquiry has been received from tenants across a broad range of industries given the development’s proximity to Allianz Stadium, Fox Studios and St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst. “It’s a compelling opportunity, there’s simply no office space of this scale available in Paddington,” Mercer Property founding director Tom Speakman said. “It’s bringing city-style space to Paddington and the market is ready for it. The tech sector is another with other fringe locations like Surry Hills and Darlinghurst at capacity.” He said there is demand from eastern suburbs-based workers who are drawn to Verona’s proximity to home, that will reduce the commute into the city.

Data from Knight Frank reveals the surge in demand for commercial space in CBD fringe locations in response to persistent hybrid working styles post-COVID, with net face rents experiencing an average growth rate of 6 per cent over the last 18 months. The director and head of office leasing at Knight Frank, Nick Lau, said vacancy rates within the city fringe are among the lowest in the Greater Sydney area, “with an undersupply of prime stock evidenced by sub 2 per cent vacancy in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Eveleigh”.

  • Sydney Morning Herald - Carolyn Cummins