Geelong is looking to develop under-utilised council land for mixed-use projects.

7 May 2014 — City of Geelong is looking to use under-utilised council land for mixed-use developments in order to build up density and create a more vibrant urban centre, with sustainable development a key requirement of proposed projects.

Consultancy DARMS Property, which also advised the Victorian government on similar projects involving state-owned rail land development, is expected to deliver a report to council later this month on preferred sites for development and potential stakeholder developers and uses.

Chair of the Central Geelong Taskforce Michelle Heagney said the Central Geelong Strategic Sites Investment and Development Opportunities project was one of the priority actions of the Central Geelong Action Plan, which is also looking to retrofit the city’s existing buildings – 75 per cent of which are C or D grade.

“We look forward to an analysis of key sites and their development opportunities,” Ms Heagney said. “We expect three to four sites to be prioritised as having the greatest level of potential market interest and impact.

“The consultancy team also includes Mark Gratwick Architects, Spiire, St Quentin and GHD. The team will be meeting with a range of stakeholders including agencies, housing providers and commercial operators over the next few weeks.”

The review of strategic sites in Central Geelong is being funded jointly by the City of Greater Geelong and the State Government through the Regional Growth Fund.

John Darmody

Developing a more vibrant, sustainable centre

Director of DARMS Property John Darmody said sustainability would be a baseline consideration for all proposed projects.

“Ecologically sustainable development will be an important consideration for each of the sites,” Mr Darmody said. “Every new development needs to have ESD principles built into it.

“One of the drivers for Geelong Council and the Victorian State Government for inner city development is underpinned by the sustainability argument, by using sites which already have existing infrastructure [including power, water, road access and telecommunications conduits] instead of developing on greenfields site, with their corresponding need for infrastructure. All of these types of urban renewal projects really support sustainability.”

He said most of the sites the team were examining are currently used for at-grade car parking, and the priority sites will be those where an opportunity exists for multi-level developments that can continue to meet car parking demand on lower levels, while unlocking the value of upper levels by constructing commercial and residential space.

In looking at each of the 12 identified sites, considerations such as easements, existing covenants and drainage will be considered, and a shortlist of up to four sites recommended to council, which will include proposals of the type of developments likely to succeed. This information will be gathered through dialogue between DARMS and potential developers and end-users including WorkCover and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, with both organisations anticipated to open new purpose-built office accommodations in Geelong.

Mr Darmody said the state government has been relocating key agencies to regional centres as a strategic method of “using its balance sheet better.”

“The Victorian State Government announced at the end of March it was closing down the [main] VicRoads office in Kew, and relocating the activities to Ballarat,” Mr Darmody said.

“They are planning to sell or redevelop the site in Kew – which has great urban development potential – and using the funds to underpin regional development in Ballarat.

“Part of our role [as consultants for City of Geelong] is to engage with stakeholders including affordable housing, government service departments and hotel operators – all the types of people who might occupy these sites, and the developers who might structure a joint venture.

“The advantage [Geelong has] is there quite a lot of underdeveloped land around the CBD. Council wants it developed in a way that brings more life to the central part of the city outside business hours.

“The challenge is to get the CBD to that tipping point where there are enough people living and working [in the CBD] that it becomes more attractive to people, creating a snowball effect and stimulating further investment.”

Tim Hellsten

Retrofits part of a larger plan

Project manager for the Central Geelong Action Plan Tim Hellsten said the project was part of a series of actions to revitalise central Geelong and encourage a greater degree of inner city residential development, rather than the city continuing to expand.

Mr Hellsten said the retrofitting of older existing buildings was also under investigation as part of the broader plan.

“A lot of Geelong’s existing commercial space – around 75 per cent – is C and D grade, which makes it hard for owners to encourage people to rent it,” Mr Hellsten said.

The plan aims to convert 25 per cent of the C and D grade office space to either A and B grade commercial space or residential use.

“We are trying to find ways to get owners to improve building stock to make it more attractive to tenants, and also ways to use upper floors for accommodation and housing.

“The action plan contains a whole range of strategies around policy, investment and the streetscape.”

Some of the detailed matters being examined include how to use lighting creatively to improve streetscapes, and encouraging the construction of green walls, not only to camouflage walls that are not aesthetically pleasing, but also to improve the environment and manage the urban heat island effect.

Building on asset strengths

“We want to build on the asset strength and the asset base [of Geelong], and advantages such as having a north-facing CBD. We aim to encourage new investment and activity, make our assets work better and focus on uses that are innovative and sustainable. There is a significant opportunity there,” Mr Hellsten said.

“Part of the process is understanding what are sustainable uses from a market perspective. The [Central Geelong Strategic Sites Investment and Development Opportunities ] project is an important strategic piece of work to do.”

Under the Central Geelong Action Plan, Council aims to have 10,000 people living in Central Geelong by 2028, in addition to a 30 per cent increase in the number of people working in the inner-urban zone. There are also plans to upgrade public transport with a city loop bus service, and create an alfresco dining and event zone with bayside views.

The city is growing strongly

The latest Economic Indicators Bulletin for City of Geelong, which was released on May 2 by Enterprise Geelong, shows strong signs of growth.

In a statement released to coincide with the launch, Geelong mayor Darryn Lyons said recent data showed the city’s unemployment rate was below both the state and national averages, and consumer confidence was strong.

“This edition [of the Economic Indicators] shows strong business and consumer confidence with commercial and domestic building activity up $100 million, $1.2 billion of construction underway and the unemployment rate starting to dip under the Victorian average,” Mr Lyons said. ??“There are new records in port trade, Deakin enrolments, vehicle registrations and births – all great indicators of consumer confidence. ??“The construction sector is extremely strong – there’s $1.2 billion worth of major construction and redevelopment underway, another $1.9 billion is awaiting commencement or in the planning stages.”

Construction projects underway in Geelong include: ?

  • $750m Keystone Business Park (10-15 year roll-out)
  • $220m Princes Hwy duplication from Waurn Ponds to Winchelsea
  • $150m water services at Armstrong Creek. ?• $93m Geelong Hospital expansion
  • $90.4m Baanip Boulevard (Section 4C of the Geelong Ring Road) ?connecting from Anglesea Road to the Surf Coast Hwy at Grovedale
  • $80m New Norlane initiative
  • $80m Bellarine Lakes Village in Moolap
  • $67m St John of God Hospital redevelopment
  • $65m Waurn Ponds Shopping Centre expansion
  • $55m Centre for Advanced Design in Engineering Training
  • (CADET) at Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus
  • $45m Geelong Library and Heritage Centre

Projects currently on the drawing board:

  • $20b LAND 400 project
  • $500m infrastructure works for the Port of Geelong
  • $200m rail service between Melbourne and Avalon
  • $140m Stage 4 and 5 Simonds Stadium redevelopment
  • $100m student accommodation building in Cavendish St, Geelong
  • $35m hospital in Norlane. ?• $33.2m reconstruction of Yarra Street Pier

Projects completed in the 12 months to end of April 2014:

  • $110m Section 4B of the Geelong Ring Road
  • $103m Australian Future Fibres Research and Innovation Centre ?(AFFRIC)
  • $94m Northern Water Plant
  • $60m Little Creatures Geelong Brewery
  • $52m Deakin Regional Community Health Hub (REACH)
  • $49m Stage 3 redevelopment of Simonds Stadium