11 March 2011 – Chairman of Frasers Property Australia, Stanley Quek, last week said that sustainability features at the massive Central Park project on Sydney CBD fringe would add between five and eight per cent to the $2 billion project costs, but were well worth it.

In a presentation at a Property Council of Australia lunch last Friday, Dr Quek said extra floor space of about 20,000 sqm allowed by the City of Sydney, in recognition of the sustainable aims of the project, had helped alleviate some of the financial pain of the site’s sustainability ambitions.

These included buildings designed to five-star Green Star standards plus a 5kw tri-generation power system and a blackwater treatment plant, all of which Frasers hoped would leverage the project to six stars.

On Wednesday this week the company unveiled concept plans for the upmarket retail component for the site, which it said would create a world-class precinct for the city, but which had its genesis in what was possibly one of Sydney’s most contentious development battles.

No surprise there: it’s an industrial site of more than five hectares on the fringe of the CBD, and the concept plans (drawn up by the vendors, Fosters Group), were considered over the top in mass and scale.

Judging by the relaxed and entertaining presentation by Dr Quek and that of his chief operating officer, Nicholas Wolff, last Friday, most of the animosity – battles with residents, anger over the original plans, even a court case that challenged the then-NSW planning minister Frank Sartor over greenhouse emissions that would be created by the site – was now water under the bridge.

What remains is to deliver what might be the most sustainably ambitious, large-scale, mixed-use, high-rise development on a city’s doorstep – and making it work financially.

In the early days there must have been some sleepless nights.

Storms
Frasers bought the five-hectare site in 2008 as a “typical urban brownfield regeneration site” for $208 million, and was “delighted” with its winning bid, Dr Quek said, despite soon heading straight into the headwinds of the Global Financial Crisis.

Another brewing storm came from local residents and environmental groups concerned with the mass of density of the original proposal from Fosters, Dr Quek said.

“There were problems here,” he said. “We recognised the risk. There was contamination. There was a public climate change agenda. It was part 3a project [meaning it had been ‘called in’ by the planning minister]. There was community and stakeholder resentment to the site. The previous owner wanted to maximise the value of the site.

“The original design was for 11 super lots able to be sold on. That was the master plan, and the massing allowed in the master plan.

“Some of the buildings were unbuildable: the floor plates were too small. But it was the master plan put together to respond to the needs of the city and the needs of the community.”

Central Park, February 2011

Adding to the problems was the fact that no-one was quite sure about what had been approved.

“We agreed to adhere to a design interpretive panel and hold consultation meetings with all of the stakeholder groups around us,” Dr Quek said.

“It was a typical brownfield urban regeneration site and it gave us the opportunity to create something different.”

In the middle of the night
Resolution came partly in the middle of the night when, inspired by his days at Trinity College in Dublin and its “beautiful square”, Dr Quek was struck by the answer: “heritage buildings in the middle, and moving the mass away from Chippendale to face Broadway, and on the roads that most deserve it.”

Planning approval took 18 months. By that time the GFC was well underway and it seemed the perfect time to “get the concept right”, Dr Quek said.

“We took the opportunity to improve the planning with an experienced international team.”

Architects would include Jean Nouvel, whom Dr Quek had met in Paris, and who had also designed Frasers’ Lumiere apartment building in Sydney, architecture gold medallist Richard Johnson, of Johnson Pilton Walker, and Foster and Partners.

In the end, Dr Quek said, the site had at least partly redeemed itself.

“You never bring everybody round,” he said. “But I think we have, because there is very little animosity to this site now.”

Central Park, 2010 Photo: Tasman Miller

Sustainability benchmarks
The project will set “new benchmarks for social and environmental sustainability”, Dr Quek said.

“This was very much on our agenda. We had a lot of focus groups and green initiatives. It was going to be costly – five to eight per cent more – but we were in agreement [with stakeholders] that it had to be done.”

In his presentation, Mr Wolff echoed the difficulty of working through the “very controversial” site.

“At the community level there was a lot of resentment,” he said. “Partly because the minister had ‘called in’ the development and [complicated] by a lack of understanding about what had been approved. And we saw that our role was to explain what the actual approval was.”

The company quickly established that it needed to have “an effective consultation” with stakeholders, including government agencies, community and sustainability groups.

“We spent a lot of time talking to them,” Wolff said. “The site had been isolated from the surrounding community for 150 years. The first thing we did was open up the site for a couple of open days. We had a three-day charrette  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charrette).

“We brought in the international design team and had participation at all levels. We had a number of community information days. And we explained the modifications to the concept plans.”

Out of the process came a program to activate surrounding streets, in particular Kensington Street, which is part of the site, with artists’ studio, a food co-operative, a food festival and an arts program.

According to Mr Wolff it’s been: “a very effective contributor to the community”.

As part of negotiations, the company won the right to increase floor space by 20,000 sqm in recognition of its contributions to sustainability.

Nicholas Wolff

“We knew we needed to set high benchmarks, so we were looking for carbon neutrality and zero net mains water demand. To achieve that we committed to tri-generation [of five megawatts] and to black water recycling, [which needed a basement to house a treatment plant that eventually blew out to five basement levels].

“Then best practice waste and materials strategy, and that continues in the current building program.”

The aim for water is to use mains water only for drinking and other human use, while the supply of black water is to come from the site and from sewer lines running beneath.

Other elements include a car-share program that had been trialled at the Lumiere, reduction of car-parking to 2000 spaces, a cultural and social sustainability program, retention of 33 heritage “items”, and the ambitious 35-storey green walls (see our article https://thefifthestate.com.au/archives/20006).

Mr Wolff said some of the heritage character had been retained, and one of the original restored multi-level buildings could lend itself to an upmarket entertainment venue such as Perth’s Little Creatures or the Ivy in Sydney.

Central Park, commercial campus, Abercrombie Street

Retail hub
Frasers sees the new retail component of Central Park becoming Sydney’s future “downtown”. It will include 16,000 sqm of retail over five levels in the podium of the One Central Park.

The influence will be Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. The size, at 16,000 sqm over five levels, is enormous, with 18 opening hours to match.

There will be gourmet groceries, fashion, electronics, entertainment and dining, as well as an “urban wellness” centre complete with a 25m pool.

Frasers Property Australia’s newly appointed chief executive officer, Guy Pahor (previously of Melbourne-based developer MAB), said that the centre, near the University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney and the eclectic Chippendale area, would aim to reflect the youth and creativity of the  “fast-emerging Broadway scene, placed right at the heart of Sydney’s education and cultural precincts”.

“This new retail hub will reflect the youth, creativity and energy of the locals,” Pahor said.

Nathan Clark, national director retail, and Hilton Hedley, director retail, both of Colliers International, said the offering would bring a higher calibre product to the Broadway precinct.