Melbourne's Festival Hall now in Hillsong's hands

You can still go to rock concerts – and attend a church service, too!

Hillsong Church has announced they have purchased Melbourne’s Festival Hall – the city’s iconic live music venue where the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash have played.

Hillsong reportedly paid $23 million for the 105-year-old West Melbourne venue, which will become the new home of its Melbourne City Campus.

In addition to housing church services on Sundays, Hillsong says the venue will still be open for business for community events, including rock concerts.

“The intention is to keep it operating as a venue for live events.” – Tim Douglass, Hillsong Victoria Pastor

“We intentionally set up the entity ‘Community Venues’ so that it can continue to operate as Festival Hall. The intention is to keep it operating as a venue for live events,” Hillsong Victoria Pastor Tim Douglass tells Eternity.

Once slated for demolition, making way for apartment blocks, Douglass admits the building will require significant work in order to accommodate the needs of the church and of the community.

“The reality is that it’s run down and under code on many levels and needs work. That will trigger a bunch of work needed to bring services up to code so it can operate for the next 100 years and beyond.”

The Festival Hall purchase comes after a long search for a permanent venue for Hillsong Melbourne City.

The church has rented several different venues in the city since it launched seven years ago, including the Regent Theatre and the Athenaeum, both CBD culture and arts hubs. Around 18 months ago, Douglass heard Festival Hall was up for sale and made inquiries, thinking it was “a long shot” since they had been looking for a venue for seven years and have always come up “empty-handed”.

In December last year, the church was told their hopes of buying Festival Hall were not going to happen.

But then this year, after what Douglass called “a roller coaster of events”, Festival Hall called Hillsong and asked if they still wanted the building. They said yes.

Asked if the church plans to censor which live acts will be allowed to perform, Douglass said “not at this stage”.

“These were designated funds that we planned well before the pandemic.” – Brian Houston, Hillsong Global Senior Pastor

In regard to the building upgrade, Douglass said any changes will happen down the track, once it becomes clear what the post-COVID world looks like. But, he stressed, the church’s intention is that any design changes will be to better serve the needs of Festival Hall’s Melbourne audience than it does in its current form.

Hillsong’s Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston directly addressed the issue of finances when the church met online yesterday and the purchase was announced.

“These were designated funds that we planned well before the pandemic to go to buying a building. We can’t use that money for general bills and the ongoing work of the church. During a pandemic we’re not sort of splurging out, it’s something that has been planned and prepared for,” Houston said.

But, he acknowledged there would be some criticism regardless.

“Not everyone’s going to like it, I’ll tell you now. Hillsong Church having such a significant building in Melbourne – not everyone’s going to like it. But I believe the Lord loves it and I sure love it and you love it [motioning to others in the room], so thank God.”