One of Melbourne's most infamous prisons is turning into a retail and hospitality precinct, anchored by a 15-screen movie theatre.
Pentridge Prison, once home to crims like Ned Kelly, Julian Knight, Chopper Reed and Squizzy Taylor, as well as luminaries like Indigenous actor Uncle Jack Charles, trade unionist Clarrie O'Shea and anti-nuclear campaigner John Dixon-Jenkins, is entering a new chapter in its 171-year-old history.
The bluestone buildings that comprise the extant parts of the prison are heritage listed, but a retail and entertainment building is being constructed inside the grounds. It includes a huge Richies IGA filled with lots of deli treats, a gelateria, restaurants, shops, a hairdresser and a Palace Cinemas, which boasts 15 screens. That portion of the development is due to be finished by November 26, and there is more to come.
One of the original bluestone buildings is also being turned into a hotel, which is not yet open. The development also includes a large open-air events space, as well as a pretty cool-looking children's playground.
Is it weird to have a fun day out at a former prison, where prisoners spent 23 hours a day locked in their cells or performing the backbreaking labour of smashing big chunks of bluestone into gravel that could be used to pave Coburg? It is a bit weird, yes. But since the prison closed in 1997, little has been done with the site, except for residential development around the edges. The new precinct aims to respect Pentridge's history while also turning its grim past into a much brighter future.
The former A block and H block cells (which is where the most dangerous prisoners were housed) are still in their original condition and are set to become a historical tourist offering, such as a museum. That is unlikely to be ready until the end of 2021.