Melbourne’s largest mixed-use urban parkland project has opened.

Created from the conversion of a former ground level carpark in Cato Street into an underground carpark catering for 500 cars, the new Prahran Square precinct in Melbourne’s inner-south-east now has 10,000 square meters of public space.

Features include new laws, terraced seating, an accessible forest walk, new commercial spaces and a children’s water play area with an attractive fountain, 130 new trees.

The square will also be home to several public art projects.

These include a light and sound installation known as The Pipes by Melbourne artist Bruce Ramus, sculptures by Sydney artist Jamie North that blend architectural remnants with Australian native plants and the ‘Murnalong’ by contemporary aboriginal artist Dr Fiona Foley featuring three native hone bees suspended above the square.

The surrounding area is also being transformed with new roadways, wider footpaths, better lighting, contemporary street furniture, new street trees and the conversion of some street space to pedestrian only zones and pedestrian priority zones.

The space will be activated during summer with a series involving twice weekly music sessions showcasing local DJs and bands as well as several arts events and free health and wellbeing sessions.

Council’s long-term vision is for the square to become an artistic, creative and community-focused hub that engages the local community and provides an essential public space which helps driver the economic renewal of the Chapel Street precinct.

All up, the 22-month construction period cost more than $60 million.

An impact study predicts the square will attract 112,500 visitors a year and increase retail spending by $32 million.

Victorian Government Architect Jill Garner said the project is an example of how problems of traffic and parking can be resolved by creating ‘gathering places, breathing places’.

“The design for Prahran Square is a great model for change – it puts pedestrians first by locating cars underground, returning valuable open space to people,” Garner said.

“Imagine the open space Melburnians could gain if this model was more prevalent.”

Not all, however, are happy.

According to media reports, local traders are considering legal action against Stonnington City Council, saying the streets around the square turned into a ghost town during construction – causing several businesses to go under.

The traders believe this could have been avoided by staging construction to leave parts of the site operational during the build phase.