21 Jul 2012

Towering hopes for city waterfront

THE Queensland government is confident work will begin early next year on a high-rise building beside the Brisbane River to house public servants, kick-starting the development of a new waterfront precinct in Brisbane’s CBD.
State Housing and Public Works Minister Bruce Flegg said the government had received nearly 40 expressions of interest to construct the building, but it was only one of seven sites in the precinct – known as the Lower George Street redevelopment – where the government was testing the private market to establish the level of interest.

“We’ve started with 1 William Street because that’s on a vacant block of land. None of the other sites are completely vacant, so it makes sense to get that first project under way. But we are also very interested in seeing what sort of an integrated development we can have, which will go past the one specific site and look at the whole precinct.”

The Newman government has pleaded it has been left in dire financial straits by its predecessor, and Dr Flegg said there would be strong private sector involvement in the redevelopment.

Major companies that have submitted expressions of interest include Westfield, Mirvac, Echo Entertainment, Leighton Properties, Thiess, Investa Property Group, Hansen Yuncken, CBus Property, Watpac, Hutchison Builders and Neilson Properties.

“Ultimately we want to do a lot more than just put up a big building. We want the revitalisation of the whole precinct, including the waterfront,” Dr Flegg said.

The new building is likely to have a large retail component in its lower floors, and possibly entertainment facilities.

Dr Flegg said there was greater potential for entertainment and retail in the part of the Lower George Street precinct that runs alongside the Brisbane River, close to the southeast freeway.

At this point the freeway runs over the river on giant pylons while the riverfront is a bitumen area used largely by runners and cyclists and a terminal for the CityCat ferries.

“We’ve got an open mind on it, but really we’re interested in any low-impact commercial or entertainment proposal that the private sector comes up with for that particular section. A marina wouldn’t be out of the question either.”

The riverside site and the southeast freeway, which runs over it, has been a problem for successive Queensland governments.

When Peter Beattie was premier he proposed putting a high-rise building over the freeway, enclosing it, which he argued would reduce its visual impact, but the idea was dropped after negative public feedback.

Former premier Anna Bligh championed a “Northbank” on the same riverside site, involving a development similar to Southbank, on the other side of the river, mainly built on a platform jutting substantially into the river.

There was again strong negative public reaction and the idea was buried.

Dr Flegg, mindful of this history, is trying a different tack by tying development of the waterfront to the development of the land behind it.

The government is cancelling plans of the former government to construct a building at Bowen Hills on Brisbane’s northside for public servants, instead locating them at 1 William Street.

Dr Flegg said public servants were scattered around the Brisbane CBD in more than a dozen buildings.

The new building would put them all in one place.

But the public servants being relocated should not expect much room. Dr Flegg said one public servant occupied an average of 18sq m at the moment, about 40 per cent above the private-sector standard, which he thought the government should adopt.

The public servants might not find their new building as roomy as their current offices, but they will get better views.

The new building is expected to have about 60,000sq m of floor space in more than 35 storeys.

“We don’t have any height restrictions at that point, so we do have that room to go up if we need to,” he said.

A private-sector proposal already knocked on the head is that of casino operator Echo Entertainment, which runs the Brisbane casino, just outside the Lower George Street area.

Echo had a proposal that involved the old State Library – between the casino and the waterfront site – but Dr Flegg said that would remain a heritage area.

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