Howard Smith Wharves – from Council’s point of view

by Dave Reeve


I posted the following piece to the ACAQ Facebook page as part of our investigation into the proposal by Brisbane City Council to grant a 99 year lease over the Howard Smith Wharves precinct to HSW Nominees Pty Ltd.

HSW – a View from the Council Chamber

Thus far we have seen that Council does in fact own most of the HSW precinct in fee simple, and at first blush, the corporate individual which is Council has a perfect right to do what it likes with it, including assigning it to another corporate individual by means of a 99 year lease. I’m sure there will be a multiplicity of subsequent blushes by the time we are through, and I need to do more digging around to inform myself if I’m not to add mine to the collective embarrassment. However, here is something to chew on.

At the Council Meeting of the 21st October 2014, the approval of Council was sought to enter into a project agreement with HSW Nominees Pty Ltd for the Howard Smith Wharves Revitalisation Project. However, before that item came up for discussion, the ground was prepared during Question Time by Cr Knapp asking the Lord Mayor a Dorothy Dixer, thereby permitting him to spruik the HSW project. Bear in mind that here we have a politician selling to his fellow pollies, so this viewpoint is worthy of careful note.

But there is another big plus which this Council will debate a little later today, and it is that of what I have referred to as the missing link in Brisbane’s river horizon—this is the Howard Smith Wharves. This Council is being asked to support what will be the development of that 3.42 hectare site. Some 80 per cent of the site under the proposal will remain as parkland and public open space, but indeed, the other 20 per cent will consist of 10 per cent of existing heritage-listed buildings, and 10 per cent of new development.
In relation to that new component, it will consist of what is a 150-room, five-star boutique hotel, three storeys in height in part, six storeys in height in other parts. But it is of a scale and level which we believe fits in with the landscape, with the cliff face. The other exciting component of this development is that it will engage with two lifts to go to the top of the cliffs—one at the hotel end, and one at the other end of the site.
The other component of the new development that is proposed is a 1,500 square metre exhibition space, and this space is proposed for markets, it could be festivals, it could be pop-up retail, it could be weddings; there is a whole range of opportunities that might pertain to that particular space.
One thing I should have mentioned in relation to the five-star hotel is that it is intended to be developed and operated by Asian Pacific Group, so that is just the hotel component. They are a part of the Deague group, and that is their plan. But the overall operation and proposal is recommended to HSW Consortium as the preferred operator; that is a consortium which is led by Adam Flaskas and Elisha Bickle. They are local people who live at New Farm.
It is not their intention to simply develop and move on. It is their intention to develop and operate the site. They have skin in the game. They are locals, and they want this to be another additional offering, another part of the story of Brisbane—Australia’s New World City. So it is that this particular site I think will be a fabulous new addition.
Apart from the aspects that I have mentioned, the older buildings that are there, the heritage-listed buildings, will consist of restaurants. There will be potential for other retail markets within that particular site. The proposal also includes a marina, and the operators have the option to take this up. If, however, they decide not to, then Council will have at some point an opportunity to go in and to reassign an opportunity around that. We believe it is a great site for a marina development and would be a good addition to the river-scape.
The development itself does not provide the biggest return to Council. We always, when we went into this site, said what we wanted was an outcome which this city could be very proud of, an outcome which was sensitive to the cliff face, sensitive to the Story Bridge. We have already done a lot of stabilisation of the cliff. There is still a section to be done, and that is behind the proposed hotel. That will be part and parcel of the responsibility of the successful consortium, if determined by today’s Council.

I think it is pretty clear from the above that the LM is envisaging something that is primarily a commercial precinct. Sure the mantra of 80% free space pops up on cue, but to my mind this is a Pavlovic reflex resulting from the public maulings that have ensued over the last decade, whenever any attempt has been made to offer up something other than a park.

If your heart is set on the vision of a commercial precinct with genuine revenue generating capacity, my guess is that 80% free space is a constraint rather than an asset. It certainly isn’t a reserve for “recreation” and “park” as is say KP, and it is duplicitous to pretend otherwise.

And, once the deal is done, we will have nothing but the weasel words of a single lease document standing between parkland for public recreation and “parkland” as a device to ring the cash registers of a private commercial operation. In my opinion it is simply untruthful to pretend that putting public parkland into the private domain can ever achieve the adherence to “community purpose” that is offered under the Land Act for state reserves.

I hasten to add that I’m not anti-development, and if it wasn’t for the fact that HSW is home to one of the two climbing cliffs in the CBD, I would support this development. Natural climbing resources are rare, and, given the CBD location, valuable. The multi-million dollar recreational value of the cliff has totally escaped scrutiny.