Grand old dame of retail gets a $10m makeover

A building that’s graced Sydney’s southern CBD for more than a century, with a career as varied as retail palace, justice precinct and movie star, is to get an upgrade, inside and out.

Attorney General Mark Speakman said the $10.6 million project will provide the Downing Centre with four more courtrooms, long-awaited improvements to toilet facilities and refreshed awnings in keeping with the storied heritage of the building.

“Built in 1908, the Downing Centre is part of the fabric of our city as well as forming part of the largest justice precinct in the Southern Hemisphere. The restored awnings will keep the distinctive and ornate features of the building, preserving them for future generations,” Mr Speakman said.

In addition to four new state of the art courtrooms, the transformation of level 2 of the Downing Centre will create new spaces for legal and support services, additional interview rooms, and more space for justice agencies like the NSW Police, Legal Aid NSW and the legal profession. After the project there’ll be 40 courtrooms in the building.

“Three of the new courtrooms will be for Local Court matters and one multi-purpose courtroom will be used to hear Drug Court matters. The Local Court hears 96 per cent of all criminal matters in NSW from start-to-finish. These new facilities will help the court continue to manage that workload,” Mr Speakman said.

Since the Downing Centre was first used as court accommodation in the 1980s, its bathroom infrastructure has remained largely untouched. That’s already changing.

“Before COVID-19, more than a thousand people a day would visit the Downing Centre, putting significant pressure on toilet facilities. The recently completed upgrades of the much-used and much-maligned level 5 bathrooms has come as an immense relief to court-users, some of whom likened the previous ‘conveniences’ to a crime-scene,” Mr Speakman said.

Level 1 bathrooms have also been renovated, while work continues on upgrades to toilets on levels 3, 4 and 6.

The projects are proceeding while the Downing Centre has fewer people attending on-site, meaning the work can be carried out with minimal disruption and inconvenience to legal proceedings. All works are expected to be completed by mid-2021.

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