Melbourne’s arts and live music scene has this week witnessed the much-loved cultural institution Festival Hall sold to Hillsong Church.

Announcing the news of the sale via YouTube, the Hillsong Founder told his congregation that “By God’s grace… we’ve been able to purchase Festival Hall.”

The news comes just two years after the venue was granted permanent heritage protection, following attempts by developers to demolish the building in order to make way for yet another apartment block.

At the time that the venue was on the market, a consortium of entertainment groups was looking at purchasing the venue. However, when COVID-19 closed Melbourne venues in March the transaction fell through. Hillsong, the underbidder was quickly placed into due diligence, which was finally successful and settled on October 16 to the tune of $23,375,000.

 Festival Hall’s colourful history could not be more at odds with its forthcoming future as Melbourne’s Pentecostal home. Despite having in recent years attempted to distance themselves from their history of queer conversion practices, the below statement is taken from Hillsong founder Brian Houston’s website.

“I […] live by my own convictions and hold to traditional Christian thought on gay lifestyles and gay marriage. I do believe God’s word is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. The writings of the apostle Paul in scripture on the subject of homosexuality are also clear […] Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles. Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.”

For the sale to go through, Hillsong established a new not-for-profit entity called Community Venues LTD in June of this year. And while Hillsong has been quick to claim the venue after renovations, would continue to host live music gigs, a quick look online reveals that the object of Community Venues LTD is to ‘pursue the charitable purposes of advancing the Christian faith, in accordance with the statement of belief, including by providing financial and other support for Christian ministries.”

For so many, attending a gig at Festival Hall is a rite of passage. Built on Dudley Street West Melbourne, the venue originally opened its doors in 1915. In 1955 the building burnt down but was rebuilt in time to hold events for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

In more recent years, Festival hall has played host to a slew of parties in the 90s and 2000s for the Also Foundation and such legendary artists as Peter Allan, Liberace and Elton John, Sneaky Sound System and The Veronicas.

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