When a small building leaves a big mark

After lying empty for nearly a decade, private investment has revived the century-old Magill Institute, bringing people back to the once thriving community hub and breathing new life into a sleepy Adelaide street.

Opened in 1902 as a reading room, the Magill Institute's strict ‘no talking’ policy soon gave way as the site became the centre of community life.

A magnet for people, the Magill Institute hosted fairs and fetes, weddings and girl guides meetings, debutante balls and brass band rehearsals, silent films and boxing matches.

Purchased by the Campbelltown City Council in 1977, the Institute later operated as a cinema until closing in 2008.

Since then, the building in the eastern Adelaide suburb of Magill, around seven kilometres from the CBD, had laid empty.

A local syndicate, headed by Moore Stephens’ director Ross Sicuro, purchased the property in 2014 and has reinvigorated the historic building with a $1.5 million investment. Today, it is once again a community hub, with a buzzing café, offices and townhouses.

“This is a good example of how private investment can regenerate tired parts of a city,” Sicuro says.

“The flow-on impact from improving the amenity of this one building has provided stimulus to the whole area,” Sicuro says.

The mezzanine office has been leased to Alexander Brown Architects, while the Hibernia café is doing a bustling trade. Property stylist Dressed for Sale is getting ready to move in.

Sicuro says the café tenants were secured through a connection on Facebook.

“They already had another café on the other side of Adelaide, but loved the feel of the building and committed straight up. That same excitement and enthusiasm for such a unique offering also drew Alexander Brown Architects away from their CBD based office,” he explains.

“This part of Magill was very quiet, but this one project has drawn business owners from elsewhere, lifting activity in the area. A medical centre has opened across the road, real estate agents are moving down the street and other cafés are cropping up.”

The heritage values of the building have been protected and Sicuro says the local community is “ecstatic” with the outcome.

“The Magill Institute is providing locals with a new meeting point,” he says.

“Five years ago, few people would hang around this part of town. They'd all be heading to other high streets. But this one development has drawn people back to the area.

“Activity attracts people. And that's exactly what's happened in Magill.”