The Block: Turning commercial buildings into luxury homes

The Block is back on our screens and the contestants are turning an old commercial building into four luxury homes.

The property is Dux House, a 1176sqm warehouse in Melbourne’s Albert Park that in previous incarnations was a cinema, church and then office space.

The Block: turning commercial buildings into luxury homes

The outside of The Block’s Dux House in Albert Park.

When the property sold last year it came with plans in place for a residential development.

It’s the second time Channel 9’s hit reality TV show The Block has taken on a commercial-to-residential conversion, after last year turning a rundown, old, 41-room motel into five apartments.

So why do show producers keep choosing commercial property for their renovation projects?

The Block Executive Producer Julian Cress says it’s partly about stepping up the challenge.

“We have done so many different varieties on a theme with The Block over the years,” Cress says.

“We thought we had topped ourselves with apartment blocks. Then we did four houses in a row in Richmond. Then we had to go bigger, with four houses in South Melbourne.

“When we came across a six-story motel in South Melbourne I thought it was the right thing to do. Where do you go from there?”

But he says it was the history of Dux House that made it appealing.

“Before being an office building it was a silent movie-era cinema,” he says. “We look for things that would be interesting to begin with and that we can maximize the benefits.”

Here are some suggestions on how to choose a development site.

The Block: turning commercial buildings into luxury homes

The Block’s Dux House in Albert Park – before construction started.

Cress says the biggest challenge with converting a commercial building is that you are starting from scratch.

“I think every property has its own very specific challenge,” he says. “But commercial property can be really attractive for residential conversion.

“The downside is that you are starting with a clean slate. The upside is that you are starting with a clean slate.”

The Albert Park project is unlikely to be the last commercial-to-residential conversion on The Block. The next project is believed to be an office block in the inner-eastern Melbourne suburb of Prahran.

Cress won’t be drawn on specifics.

“I can’t go into too much detail on the next project,” he says. “But if the speculation is correct we are converting another commercial property. Yet again a different scale of project.”

But Cress believes there are still commercial-to-residential opportunities within striking distance of Melbourne’s CBD – in suburbs such as North Melbourne, South Melbourne and Carlton.

“Most of them are brick sheds with galvanized roofs. It’s a pretty safe place to develop,” he says. “They are getting done fast. People are moving on them for all the right reasons.”

The Block: turning commercial buildings into luxury homes

The twins’ guest bedroom on The Block.

And it looks like the next series may not be the last time The Block is filmed in Melbourne.

“I think we will be here for a while now. It’s a wonderful city. We have got a very warm welcome here.”

Producers at The Block aren’t the only ones giving commercial properties a new lease of life, with increasing numbers of developers turning CBD office blocks into apartments  and hotels.