21 Dec 2012

Green light for CBD skyscraper

A 43-storey high building will go ahead near the parliamentary precinct in Brisbane’s CBD as part of a $653 million Newman government-backed project.

The government on Friday announced Cbus Property had won the contract to develop the new building, which would include new offices for public servants and senior ministers.

The mixed-use development at 1 William Street is part of the government’s controversial plan to replace the executive building on George Street and lease back government offices in the new building.
The existing executive building houses Premier Campbell Newman and senior ministers. Mr Newman has previously said it would be demolished. The opposition argues the state has higher priorities than a new government office building.

Ministers said the 1 William Street property, currently government-owned, was a “dry, dusty eyesore of a car park” that would be transformed by the mixed-use development.

The new building is set to be 258 metres high, including its spire, and will boast 119,977 square metres of gross floor area. The building will also include 74,853 square metres of lettable office space, of which the government would require about 60,000 square metres.

Work is expected to begin early next year and finish by 2016.

Making the announcement alongside Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, Treasurer Tim Nicholls bristled at suggestions the government was gifting the land to the developer.

Mr Nicholls said the government would retain ownership of the land although the developer would gain a 99-year lease over the site.

The $650 million building would be constructed by the private sector at no cost to taxpayers and the government would then lease back office space, Mr Nicholls said.

“It won’t cost taxpayers a cent to build the building,” Mr Nicholls said, adding that the government would pay to rent the office space.

The government argues the work will directly support 1000 construction jobs and when the building is complete, will allow the government to cut back on leases over other government offices in the CBD.

Mr Nicholls said this consolidation of government office space would save up to $60 million a year by the time public servants were relocated to the new building.

He said the government would rent office space in the building on an initial 15-year lease and would then have the opportunity to renew that lease.

Mr Nicholls insisted the rental price would be competitive but indicated the terms would not be made public as they were “commercial in confidence”.

Pressed on whether the government would need to provide any bridging finance to allow construction to start, Mr Nicholls said there was no cost to government.

The government received 13 expressions of interest for the project.

The winner, Cbus Property, is owned by an industry superannuation fund for the construction, building, infrastructure and allied industries.

Its other projects include a new 63,000 square metre building for the National Australia Bank in Bourke Street, Melbourne, and a 33,860 square metre commercial and retail building in Martin Place, Sydney.

Cbus Property chief executive Adrian Pozzo said his company would put a team together to construct the building and it would include Brookfield Multiplex.

Mr Pozzo said he was delighted to be involved in the project, saying it would double the investment of Cbus’s superannuation funds in Queensland.

“The government decided to make it happen; make it happen in a short time frame. With other projects in other states, it doesn’t happen that quickly,” he said.

Mr Nicholls said the government had opted for Cbus Property because the design was modern, addressed the climate and the aspect of the river.

Mr Nicholls said the government had confidence the developer could deliver on the project and this certainty was important in selecting a bidder.

Mr Seeney said the government had worked closely with Brisbane City Council on the project and he did not anticipate any hold-ups in the planning process.

It is unclear what will now happen to several other government-owned parcels of land in the nearby part of the CBD.

Mr Seeney said he would carry out a “precinct planning process” to work out the future of the area.

Asked about Mr Newman’s previous comments that the existing executive building on the corner of George and Mary streets would be knocked down, Mr Seeney said: “I think that would be a natural outcome of the renewal of that precinct.”

Mr Seeney said it was fair to assume a new building “of some sort” would be constructed at the executive building site.

He said the government did not want to undertake the process of planning the other parcels of land until after the 1 William Street building was under way.

Mr Seeney said 1 William Street was the “first domino” in a process that would revitalise the parliamentary end of the CBD.

“I don’t think it should be seen in isolation from the opportunity to develop the remainder of the precinct,” he said.

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state had “higher priorities than a new office tower for the Premier and LNP Ministers who have spent their time in office making life harder for others”.

“This will not be a happy Christmas for tens of thousands of Queensland families thanks to the LNP’s mass sackings and savage cuts to frontline services,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Ms Palaszczuk called on Mr Nicholls to release any Treasury or Queensland Treasury Corporation advice behind the decision.

“We need to see the cost to taxpayers of renting the new building and the duration of leases.

“We need to see the advice that says it is better for taxpayers if the government shifts from being a landlord to a tenant.

“We know the Queensland Treasury Corporation has told the government that owning its office blocks is the preferred option.”

Ms Palaszczuk said the government also needed to explain whether it was selling other government buildings in the Brisbane CBD.

“In particular there are a several heritage buildings such as The Mansions and Harris Terrace in George Street whose future and suitable use must be guaranteed,” she said.

Asked whether the new building was a Christmas present to Mr Newman, Mr Nicholls said: “I think this is a Christmas present to the construction industry.”

The new building will include just 318 car parks but would have high office energy and water ratings.

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