Derelict to gourmet: chef and council to transform vacant block

A derelict slab of land in Melbourne's CBD will be transformed into a market garden to grow vegetables for one of the city's leading restaurants as part of lord mayor Robert Doyle's re-election bid.

Cr Doyle said if re-elected this month, the City of Melbourne and celebrity chef George Calombaris would work together to turn a vacant block at 567 Collins Street into a garden where produce would be grown for Calombaris' restaurant, The Press Club.

The land, in between King and Spencer streets and backing onto a multilevel car park, has been vacant for years and has been declared one of the worst eyesores in the city.

Cr Doyle said the owners of the land, APN Property Group, had agreed to lend the land to the council for it to be reworked into a market garden and sitting area. He said the owner had the right to take the land back if and when it decided to build there.

Cr Doyle said the city would spend $200,000 building a platform at Collins Street level and a staircase for people to gain access to the land below. He said Mr Calombaris would foot the bill for building and working the market garden.

Cr Doyle said Mr Calombaris had come up with the idea and initially approached the state government before being directed to the council. He said the chef and owner of the land deserved credit for helping find a solution on what to do with the land, which had lay vacant for 20 years.

"I can see a time in the very near future where it won't be a bomb site like it is now and a place for poor and an even criminal behaviour," Cr Doyle said.

"It could be an oasis and a jewel right in the centre of the city for the enjoyment of the people of Melbourne."

Mr Calombaris said he had dreamed of having a space where his staff could grow their own vegetables, especially speciality produce, and was excited at doing so within the CBD.

"Chefs ... have more respect for things that come from the ground," he said.

"I still can't get over knowing this is Collins Street just out there. Have a look at this. It's exciting this space is going to change for the better."

Mr Calombaris said the garden could provide work for unemployed young people and re-use coffee grindings from across the city for the market to be more sustainable.

He said he was prepared to share the space with other restaurants. Cr Doyle said other restaurateurs had shown interest in growing their produce at the site.

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