The site of The Concourse has housed buildings of public significance and been recognised as an important part of the local community for decades.
The first Willoughby Town Hall was built on the site in 1903. The hall doubled as the Council Chambers and the site was shared with the Council Pound, the School of Arts and the Ku-ring-gai Masonic Lodge. A three story administration building was also built on the site in 1967 (with a fourth floor added in 1980).
In 1972, the original Town Hall was demolished and replaced by a new Civic Centre, comprising the Town Hall which seated 850 people, and the smaller Bailey Hall, which seated 350. This building was constructed at a cost of approximately one million dollars and played an essential part in Willoughby City’s community and culture for many years.
The Town Hall was primarily designed to house the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and was subsequently equipped with technical facilities to accommodate orchestral performances. The hall hosted many different types of performances, as well as functions and exhibitions. The Bailey Hall was designed as a multi-function space, providing an area for functions and receptions, as well as facilities for the performance of drama and musical theatre.
School of Arts
The School of Arts ran on the civic site until 1980, when it was demolished to make way for the Civic Arcade – a row of shops on a portion of the eastern boundary of the site at 405 Victoria Avenue.
On 3 September 1977, after years of book collection and preparation, the Chatswood Library was first opened on the site. The building was 1,770 sqm in area over two floors. The library was an instant success, earning a reputation for the quality of its collections and services, and the professionalism of its staff. It rapidly became the busiest single service point of any public library in New South Wales.
Although enormously successful when they were built, the public facilities at the Civic Centre were no longer able to meet the needs of the Willoughby City community, nor the ever-growing number of regional users. South-facing open space provided no connectivity with the buildings and provided inadequate space for most outdoor entertainment. Passageways between the buildings also encouraged loitering and unacceptable activity.
From the mid 1990s it became clear that Council needed to create a centrepiece – a heart and soul for the CBD that would meet the future growth for library services, open space and cultural/community facilities. Council also needed to address the limitations of ageing, dysfunctional and inaccessible public facilities on the site, and how those facilities were to meet the community’s needs within a CBD experiencing unprecedented levels of development and commercial investment.
The site of The Concourse is possibly the most important public site owned by Willoughby City Council and certainly one of the most valuable. The many opportunities it offers to the local and regional resident, visitor and business communities has demanded comprehensive, intelligent and long term planning for its redevelopment.
In 2008 the existing buildings were demolished and the commencement of construction was marked with the Turning of the Sod. The Concourse was officially opened by the Governor of NSW Marie Bashir, AC, CVO and Mayor of Willoughby, cr Pat Reilly on the 17th September 2011.