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AIME opens to a sparkling city…and Taylor Swift

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AIME opens to a sparkling city…and Taylor Swift
Melbourne turned on a picture perfect day for the host destination’s familiarisation tours before AIME as delegates scattered around the city on programs to “Uncover Melbourne”.

Adding to Melbourne’s sparkle was a grand final crowd of teens and their mums dressed in glittering Swiftie fashion as global pop icon Taylor Swift was about to stage her final show at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Swift drew an estimated 288,000 people over three nights while in Melbourne, performing the three largest live shows of her career.

So, as our tour group departed Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, we were grateful to be leaving the CBD for an afternoon of experiences at Pentridge, the former jail turned hotel, events and entertainment precinct, 20 minutes’ away in Coburg.

I greeted the visit with mixed emotion, having lived through some of the notorious events related to the prison, including the breakout of Ronald Ryan and Peter Walker in 1965, the hanging of Ryan in 1967 inside these walls – the last person executed in Australia – and menacing convicts like Mark “Chopper” Read who also spent time at Pentridge. Before it was shut down in 1997, I had even been to a theatre production in B Division’s mess hall. Now we were eating lunch in the very same place.

The truth is, this is a sensitively preserved location with 19 rooms built in the cell block. Called The Interlude, each hotel room occupies as many as five of the former six-by-nine-foot cells. Our group of delegates comprised association executives and meeting planners – as the only journalist I was interested in their reaction and it was overwhelmingly positive about the potential for events, especially considering TFE has also erected a 106-room hotel tower block, comprising studio, one and two bedroom accommodation, inside the prison walls. These offer floor to ceiling windows and a great view of the city from the north.

Additionally, there’s the prison chapel that can host a banquet for 200 delegates, plus a hall between the cells suitable for long table events. There is also a sunny outdoor courtyard which can be used for private events.

AIME opens to a sparkling city…and Taylor Swift
The Long Hall at Pentridge

One of the features of TFE’s offering at Pentridge is a range of experiences including a History of Place that explains some of the facinating facts about the jail and its construction, escape attempts – both successful and not – plus descriptions of some of the more punitive philosophies of its 170-year history.

Other experiences available onsite include tea blending, wine tasting with a sommelier and lunch in the North & Common restaurant, which  has already earned a chef’s hat. The underground lap pool is also bookable for one hour as a private experience.

By contrast, our subsequent visit to Hotel Indigo Melbourne on Flinders, brought us back into the Taylor Swift hype, with her music playing over the hotel sound system and plenty of evidence of glittering concert goers in its public spaces. In the late afternoon nearby tram stops en-route to the MCG were packed with fans.

IHG’s Hotel Indigo Melbourne is the result of a transformation of a former Holiday Inn. The lobby is dominated by the face of international photographer Helmut Newton who had a studio in Flinders Lane and the hotel contains not only his images but the work of other photographers with rooms accessorised in this style.

AIME opens to a sparkling city…and Taylor Swift
Hotel Indigo Melbourne

A site inspection revealed bright, well-lit rooms overlooking Spencer Street, including one-bedroom suites, of which there were eight. One delegate hearing that they could be had for $390 said she’d take 20 for an event, if only she could.

But the Indigo team is under no illusion that it is not quite ready for larger conferences. However, plans are advanced to develop a meeting space, pre-fabricated offsite then to be craned into an internal courtyard that once held a pool which has since been filled in. The result, due late in 2024, is expected to be an event space for 200.

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