by Tina Perinotto

Avid TFE reader, David Wilson’s homage to the Swine flu ship that visited Sydney in June, possibly looking for Barangaroo ahead of the world crowds, distracted by the Brian Eno Opera House.

– 11 August 2009 – (Updated) John Tabbart, the man who got Melbourne’s Docklands off the ground and then went on to run VicUrban, and more gigs in the UK and Middle East, is in Sydney heading up the Barangaroo Delivery Authority that will transform the CBD’s last remaining brownfield site, its former working harbour.

At the Property Council lunch last Friday Tabbart spoke for close to 30 minutes if you include questions, but true to form he gave nothing away. Or next to nothing.

You had to read between the lines to see what was going on. Occasionally you could read the lines themselves.

Here was a spectacular 22 hectare site at the city’s edge that had the potential to be the grand vision buried in its bones. But could it/would it?

“It’s very important we get this absolutely right,” he told the packed Westin Hotel lunch crowd.

“Sydney needs transformation today. It’s not what Sydney can do for Barangaroo, it’s what Barangaroo can do for Sydney.”

The opportunity, he said, was to “leverage greater investment in the city, a platform for innovation.”

So what will be built?

Certainly not what was flushed out with the “winner” of the design competition, Philip Thalis and his team whose vision was declared the best, then ignored.

The design competition in 2005 was “good at getting attention,” Tabbart said with characteristic diplomacy.

So what about a hint on who will win the development tender? (who will hope, no doubt that they get a better run than the architect winners.)

Sometime this month, the State government is due to reveal which of the three finalists gets the first and juiciest part of the puzzle – the commercial hub.

The contenders are Lend Lease,  Brookfield Multiplex and Mirvac, Leightons and Macquarie Property Development and Finance (Nakheel withdrew earlier this year, not long before two of its executives were jailed in Dubai.)

“I’m a bureaucrat,” was the answer, “and my employer is the government.”

The three consortia, said Tabbart, have produced the “most comprehensive proposals I’ve seen in my career.”

This could be a problem. Some commentators have thought it a pity that the pie won’t be sliced into far smaller pieces,  all the better to introduce the “grittiness” and “texture” that makes a city interesting and lively.

This is not something Tabbart fails to understand.

John Tabbart: Barangaroo has got to ignite the passions of the people of Sydney –

He talked about Richard Florida’s theory on the rise of the creative class, which requires the three “Ts” – talent, technology and tolerance.

Barangaroo might have a funds management core, said Tabbart, but it needs to attract the whole of Sydney.

It needs mixed uses, and to attract the “common people of Sydney”. The “vibrancy, the free thinking and the really grounded attitude of Sydney needs to come out in Baranagaroo,” he said.

“It needs to be innovative. It need to have some courage and some aspirational outcomes.”

Of course, it also needs to “set a global benchmark for sustainability.” (That hopefully will last longer than the global sustainability benchmark achieved at the Sydney Olympic site at Homebush, which now, less than 10 years later just as the place gets hopping, is being partly torn to pieces  for a V8 supercar rally.)

In the audience: Julie Bindon of JBA Urban Planning

Certainly former Prime Minister, Paul Keating who is deeply involved in Barangaroo, will likely ensure the headland is restored to some semblance of its past life, as one of an “archipelago of headlands,” Tabbart said.

And yes, there will be 50 per cent parkland, at least for now. Unhappy voices in commercial property-land think that’s too lonely and desolate. (Mmmm wonder what they think of Central Park in New York.)

“Barangaroo has not yet ignited the passions of the people of Sydney,” Tabbart said.

Not quite right. Ask Philip Thalis. And the scores of other designers and architects from all over the world whose passions were highly ignited by the design competition.

Then ignored. (Like so many other good ideas that get snuffed by the government silos of power more intent on igniting weapons of mutually assured destruction than passions.)

Tabbart says there’s a recognition that for the last decade or so there’s been a bit of coasting. “Sydney has still got it and Barangaroo should be part of showing that.”

Good idea. If anyone can make it happen it will be John Tabbart.

Go John.

UPDATE: BDA announced on 12 August that Brookfield Multiplex and Lend Lease had been selected to further refine their proposals to develop the site, knocking out the Mirvac-Leightons- Macquarie Property group.

It also said the project would now need to be carbon neutral, climate positive.

Six selection criteria and weightings were announed:

  • Design – 35 per cent
  • Financial return and risk – 35 per cent
  • Sustainability  – 10 per cent
  • Delivery and planning  – 10 per cent
  • Marketing and promotions – 5 per cent
  • Capability – 5 per cent

“Design, financial return and risk have the greatest weightings amounting to 70 per cent of the total
due to the importance to achieve urban design excellence and ensure Barangaroo is financially
sustainable,” a media statement from the BDA said.

“The weighting of 10 per cent for the sustainability criteria is in the context of an already world
benchmark objective, for a carbon neutral, climate positive CBD precinct.

“This means that Barangaroo can have a positive ecological footprint being:

• water positive, by exporting more water than it uses;
• zero waste and potential to clean up more waste than we generate (from surrounding
area); and
• carbon neutral, by generating more renewable energy than we use – for Barangaroo
this is the equivalent of taking 36,000 cars off the roads each year.