Ideas are being sought on what could turn out to be the next big thing in CBD development with plans to revitalise the area north of Mair Street.
As part of a fast-tracked push to create a new Ballarat station southside master plan, the Victoria Planning Authority is looking for community input on how the site should be used in the future.
This would then lead to a change in the Ballarat Planning Scheme.
The land includes the station building and platform one, the current regional bus interchange and taxi rank, and stretches south along Mair Street, covering heritage buildings.
It also covers Coffee Palace Lane, and follows the northern side of Mair Street to Peel Street.
"The master plan will guide the renewal of government-owned land and outline opportunities for private development within the precinct," a media release states.
"One of the highest priorities for this project is the preservation and celebration of the unique heritage of the station, recognising it as a significant and central part of Ballarat's history."
It was noted the master plan, as the first step in a longer process, will not include rezoning of land outside VicTrack land or private planning or subdivision permits.
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Instead, it aims to "(t)ransform the precinct into a new destination for Ballarat, that will attract investment, jobs and new commercial opportunities into the city" and "provide greater planning direction and certainty for private development".
Save Our Station president Gerald Jenzen said it was a huge opportunity for the community.
He said maintenance and upgrades, including better access for people with a disability, were desperately needed.
"(Save Our Station) believes it's another opportunity for the public to stress the importance of the station being an accessible and comfortable public transport hub," he said.
"We believe it's vital for Ballarat's future, which celebrates and showcases our unique goldfields architectural heritage.
"The 2014 master plan has failed to deliver on a number of issues, and this is an opportunity to get planning for Ballarat station back on track."
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton concurred - given council's push to bring back vibrancy to the CBD through its proposed Bakery Hill urban renewal plan, and the northern precinct's works, he said the master plan is a "missing piece of the puzzle".
"You can't have this derelict, neglected space between the station as a vibrant meeting place for people to come into town, and then the vibrancy of what we hope will be a renewed CBD," he said.
"For me, it's about how we bring Ballarat's arrivals place into being a meeting place, how the station precinct really be a gathering place for people."
More inner-city housing could also be built as more space is opened up, or buildings could be repurposed, similar to the northern precinct's Goods Shed project.
"To connect inner-city medium density living to transport is so crucial, so it seems ideal to me if you've got the laneway there where the car yard is, east along Mair Street, it opens up great residential opportunities, and directly linked to the station precinct and bus interchange," he said.
However, accessibility and respect for heritage must be front of mind, he added.
"There's no way we can have a thriving transport hub that has buses and trains as the key points of contact in the town without appropriate access - it's a blight on our planning scheme, we've got to address that," he said.
Public Transport Users Association Ballarat convenor Ben Lever said the precinct's primary use must be as a transport hub, so passengers don't have to navigate their way through confusing new buildings to get to trains and buses.
But there's an opportunity to restore the south-facing main station building to its former glory, he added, if some aspects like the regional bus interchange are moved.
"When the southern station building with the portico and tower was built, they envisioned that the main entrance and approach would be from the south, which is why the architecture really points that way - but for most of its working life, the default entrance to the station has been from Lydiard Street," he said.
"It would be great to really connect the station to Mair Street in a meaningful way, making it easily accessible to pedestrians while also creating great views from that angle.
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"In the longer term, the bluestone carriage sheds could potentially become something like a dock platform for trains to Geelong, so it probably makes sense to keep using them for stabling in the short term, rather than converting them to non-railway use like they're doing to the goods shed to the north."
To have your say, visit Engage Victoria's website - consultation ends February 22.
A second round of consultation will also take place when a draft master plan is completed.
More information is available from the VPA website, including an FAQ.
Works on the local bus interchange are now under way in the northern precinct, and are almost complete at the Good Shed retail and convention centre - the Quest Hotel and multi-level car park have already been finished.
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