McWhirters MarketPlace Redevelopment
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These articles contributed by Paul Mitchell
(Article from the Courier Mail, January 27, 1989, By FIONA CAMERON)

IAN McWhirter has had much more than a mere work-related interest in Fortitude Valley over the past four years.

Mr McWhirter, the manager of Raine and Horne’s, city sales department and the man responsible for much of the Remm amalgamation in the Valley — also has a long-standing family connection with that part of town.

Four generations of McWhirters have had a close association with the area, starting with James McWhirter, Ian McWhirter’s great grandfather, who arrived in Australia from Scotland on the ship "Fortitude" in the 1880s. James McWhirter worked for T.C. Beirnes in the Valley, then opened his own shop in 1893 in Ann Street, opposite the current post office. In 1898, he relocated to the corner of Brunswick and Wickham streets, the site where the still-standing McWhirter’s (later Myers) building was built in the 1930s.

"His son, my grandfather —also James McWhirter —worked in the store, but died in 1919, predeceasing his father who died in 1924," Mr Ian McWhirter said.

"My father, Duncan McWhirter, worked at McWhirter’s and was managing director of McWhirter Ltd. at the time of his death in 1953. "At this time, my brother James: McWhirter worked at the store and continued working for Myer for a number of years.".

Myer purchased McWhirter Ltd. in 1955 and retained the name until 1966. The Myer store operated from the site until early last year when the Myer Centre in Queen Street was completed. "It is thus historically significant that the Remm Group has chosen the name ‘McWhirter’s Marketplace’ for its major development which will no doubt become the catalyst for revitalisation of the entire Fortitude Valley commercial district," Mr McWhirter said.

Remm’s first purchase in the Valley was the old Woolworths building in Brunswick Street in 1985, and the Coles building was added to the portfolio soon after. The amalgamation culminated in the acquisition of the McWhirter’s building from Myer last year.

Remm has released little detail about its’ plans for the area, but preparatory work is believed to have been going on in-side the old McWhirters building for the past few weeks. Remm plans to start full-scale construction on the site on February 1. A launch of the massive redevelopment program would be held in the near future, a Remm spokesman said yesterday.

Sources say it will be a retail, community and entertainment complex incorporating a hotel, restaurants and tourist attractions. Mr McWhirter said one of the reasons the Valley was in for a development boon that it was now impossible acquire a significant development site in the CBD for under $10 million.

"Under the new Town ____ major high-rise building permitted in Fortitude Valley the area defined as the ______ heart precinct," he said. "It is obvious to well informed real estate firms and developers that the Fortitude Valley commercial district, which includes some 400 properties earmarked, is the next big commercial development in Brisbane. Raine and Home’s, recently into the availability of valley high-rise CBD office sites only indicated that high-rise office developments would begin in Fortitude Valley in the next few years, Mr McWhirter said.

IT was 110 years ago that James McWhirter Snr arrived in Brisbane from Scotland on the good ship ‘Fortitude’, destined to make an indelible mark on the city of Brisbane and contribute to its heritage in a spectacular way. In 1898, Mr McWhirter and his son, also James, opened McWhirter and Son —Cash Drapers in Brunswick Street.

The premises were modest, with a frontage of just 33ft, but, even then, 54 staff were employed. Expansion was rapid and construction on a five storey building started in 1912, following the purchase of property facing Wickharn and Warner Streets. McWhirter and Son became a publicly listed company, McWhirters Limited, in 1920 and, shortly after, the remaining property on the Valley corner was purchased. Mr McWhirter Snr died in 1925 but the company went from strength to strength, undergoing extensive internal modernisation between 1931 and 1950. This included the rebuilding of four floors and the installation of escalators.

A milestone was reached in 1955 when Myer Emporium bought McWhirters Limited for $3.5 million. The McWhirters name was retained until 1966 when it changed to Myer which remained until the late 1980s. More history was made when the Queensland-based Remm Group Ltd realised the potential of the Fortitude Valley area. They assembled a portfolio of property in the area including the old Woolworths and Coles buildings and, in July 1988, bought the McWhirters building from Myer.

Remm’s ambitious redevelopment program included the concept of a festive marketplace similar to developments in North America. The project was completed in October 1989 at a cost of $70 million.

Care was taken from the outset to maintain the original facade and internal features like pressed metal ceilings and ornate plaster cornices so as to preserve as much of the original atmosphere as possible.

Diana Costantini Marketing Manager at McWhirters sorts through archive photographs dating back to 1890 for the Photographic Exhibition of Valley history.



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