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A complex of "unloved" 1890s-era department store buildings in the heart of Fortitude Valley is set to be transformed into a Torrens University campus and a separate student accommodation tower.
The proposal would transform the corner of Brunswick and Wickham streets where the former Waltons, Overells, Lincoln Mills and Braggs buildings sit.
The once separate department store buildings were gradually amalgamated in the 1950s to create a massive block of Waltons' floorspace.
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Since the 1980s, the buildings have sat almost empty with only a handful of retail stores filling the shop fronts.
The buildings gradually slid into decline as the years rolled by. Today, pigeons can be seen roosting in windows and the buildings are covered in graffiti.
New hope for old history
Under a new agreement between property owners Mount Cathay Pty Ltd and Torrens University, the 3,489 square metre complex could be transformed if a code-assessable development application lodged with Brisbane City Council this month is approved.
Under the proposal, the buildings' original facades would be retained, while the inner structures demolished to create Torrens' newest campus.
The $40 million project is expected to open in 2032.
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The site could be a base for 2,000 students.
A 29-storey student accommodation tower at the north end of the site, not operated by Torrens, is proposed under a second stage of the development.
A separate building currently leased by Westpac surrounded by the complex is not included in the development.
Torrens University's director of property and facilities Courtney Lund said the project had been "a long time coming" and would revitalise a major part of Fortitude Valley's heritage.
Ms Lund said the project came about after she spoke to a real estate agent about her "impossible brief" for a future Brisbane university campus, requiring a combination of an inner-city location, heritage features, close to transport and amenity.
"It is absolutely perfect," she told ABC Radio Brisbane.
"Having been an old department store, it's got beautiful big floor plates which are perfect for education.
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"The heritage features in that building, I just cannot wait for them to be restored and reinvigorated because they are gorgeous — but they're kind of hidden behind the dingy shops downstairs at the moment."
Ms Lund said Torrens University was positioning itself to play a key role in Queensland's international student drive when borders reopened.
She said the university's existing campus, further south in Fortitude Valley near the Storey Bridge, was not planned for closure, but the university would "watch the space".
'Unloved' piece of the Valley
The development application includes Overells Lane, which opens onto Wickham Street.
Offices, shops, cafes and some basement parking are also part of the proposal. Overells Lane would connect to a reopened laneway through the former Braggs building, opening onto Brunswick Street.
"It will be a stunning transformation," Ms Lund said.
"We really are excited to be exposing the heritage of the nature of the building because it is so hidden.
"Everything is quite boarded up inside, and when you pull it back, there are just these gorgeous big arched windows.
"There no doubt will be some beautiful surprises during the project."
A heritage report lodged with the application notes the plan will require "extensive" internal demolition but argues the university's use is "perhaps one of the best uses that could be determined".
Fortitude Valley was once Brisbane's retail hub, with stores such as Waltons, Overells and McWhirters' household names.
Ms Lund said she hoped the project would contribute further to Fortitude Valley's revitalisation, citing the King Street and James Street developments and the Peppers FV tower north.
"This all kind of completes that section, or the puzzle for Fortitude Valley," she said.
"This has been that one little unloved piece."
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