It is the week that clocks changed in Ballarat - with one glaring exception.
You may even drive or walk past it today. Hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors will do so every year. Apart from the dome-roofed clock tower on Town Hall, there is probably no more prominent Ballarat timekeeper than the giant Norwich Plaza clockface looking out over Sturt Street.
Except keeping time is one thing its hour and minute hands no longer do.While the rest of the city's clocks went back for winter, at the eastern end of Ballarat's most prestigious boulevard time remained frozen at around quarter to five. It has been for quite a while.
The seized-up hands and giant Roman numerals along with the unloved Colorbond-clad plaza it is fixed upon have been a discussion point for years. Will time ever move on?
When it opened in 1981, the Norwich Plaza and its American-style shopping may have seemed like the future of retail to some residents - although the development certainly had its critics.
Barely two decades later, as other malls around Ballarat sprouted in competition, warning bells were tolling. By 2003, the entrepreneur Tom Krulis, who was at that time managing director of Godfreys Vacuums which had a shop in the complex, came forward with a plan for a plaza with a "futuristic 21st Century appearance".
He proposed a $1 million face-lift that could involve a possible sponsorship tie-in with Sovereign Hill. There would be a public art wall showing images of bygone Ballarat. The new Sovereign Hill Shopping Centre he envisioned "could act as a city centre tourism office for the museum with Sovereign Hill traders mingling with shoppers", according to a newspaper report at the time.
With the backing of the then Mayor of Ballarat David Vendy, the project appeared to have momentum.
But then there were "sceptical traders". "[They] need to look at the big picture and be objective. There's a crying need to take Ballarat to another level," Mr Krulis said at the time.
The project didn't happen.
If you keep thinking that it will be business as usual, you will stagnate and not survive.Gilbert Rochecouste
Fast forward several years to 2011, and the plaza was now openly called an eyesore and a sticking point. Improvements were needed, conceded the council's then director of economy and development. The council would also discuss options with landowners to upgrade the existing Norwich Plaza building or "apply facade treatment".
But the Colorbond remained defiantly clad.
In 2013, there were new whispers of change led by Gilbert Rochecouste, the man credited with breathing new life into Melbourne's laneways. Bridge Mall was a particular issue, he said, advising that both the Norwich Plaza side and the opposite end needed "reactivating".
"If you keep thinking that it will be business as usual, you will stagnate and not survive," he said at the time.
By 2015, however, the Norwich Plaza clock itself needed reactivating. At least one resident found its unreliability and its prominent position hard to bear. Could the hands possibly be removed, asked Sally Calderone of Ballarat Central at a council meeting, so the clock did not reflect an unreliable time?
There were discussions with the landowner again - but a spokesperson for the City of Ballarat said: "as a privately-owned building, council was only ever in the position of providing advice."
And so time continued to stand still. By 2016 Ballarat public opinion had crystallised, if it hadn't already. In a poll run by The Courier, Norwich Plaza was voted the city's worst building by quite a margin. More than 30 per cent of respondents said they viewed the structure as the city's biggest eyesore. To put that into context, Chatham and Eureka Houses were next on the list with just over 10 per cent of the vote.
Last year, they were given hope. The plaza was up for sale. Calling for buyers willing to spend over $5m, the sales brochure described it as an "irreplaceable high profile retail complex" with a potential net income of $452,190 per year. There was also an "opportunity for future redevelopment and/or subdivision", subject to council authorisation.
It is surely reasonable to ask the owners and managers of these properties, in their own interests and those of the community, to make their clock reliableA reader of The Courier
And then, once again, nothing happened. Terms of a sale were reportedly agreed, but the buyer got cold feet and looked elsewhere.
So what now? The clock still irks many residents. One recently compared it to the fictional clock that features in Back To The Future, stopped never to go again after a lightning strike at 10.04 pm on November 12, 1955.
Another reader wrote in last autumn, saying that "it confronts thousands of Ballarat citizens and visitors every day. Its hands have ...only fitfully since the turn of the century.
"It is surely reasonable to ask the owners and managers of these properties, in their own interests and those of the community, to make their clock reliable... and spruce up their buildings. No rush, of course," wrote Frank Hurley of Alfredton.
The council says those discussions have been held many times with the owner, who nobody handling the property would name, and the council could not for legal reasons.
I know there are a lot of people who grizzle about the way the place looks, but are they owners who have got to make that investment, or work out whether it's worthwhile for them? No, they're not.Trader, Norwich Plaza
The Courier understands, however, that the building is owned by the Melbourne-based Cohen family - which includes by marriage Tom Krulis, the former Godfreys CEO whose "futuristic plaza" vision fell through more than 15 years ago.
The Courier attempted to contact the family to discuss the plans - and find out why the clock has remained unfixed, or un-removed - for so long, but was unable to reach them.
One trader, who did not wish to be named, said the widespread criticism of the plaza's state was unfair. "I know there are a lot of people who grizzle about the way the place looks, but are they owners who have got to make that investment, or work out whether it's worthwhile for them? No, they're not."
"It's easy to be critical but it's damned hard to do things properly and satisfy people."
In the meantime an employee of Burgess Rawson, the estate agent that handled the potential sale in 2018, said plans for an exciting but "very sensitive" joint venture redevelopment were under consideration earlier in the year. Council has also said previous talks with the plaza owners had led to "very positive discussions about CBD activation as a whole".
For now, however, the time still shows quarter to five in Norwich Plaza. Beneath the clock, a young plane tree - noticeably smaller than its neighbours - is growing stealthily up towards the Roman numerals.
Will its canopy eventually hide the embarrassment of the Ballarat clock that never moves on? Or will a new development take the plaza's place before the leaves reach that high?
Only time will tell.
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