23/03/2015 - 15:26

Kings Square commitment looms large

23/03/2015 - 15:26

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Progress is expected soon on a project that will shape Fremantle’s future.

Kings Square commitment looms large
CATALYST: The Kings Square plan is considered key to drive further investment in the Fremantle CBD.

Progress is expected soon on a project that will shape Fremantle’s future.

The state government is expected to reveal in a matter of months which department it will shift to Fremantle, a move expected will trigger about $300 million of redevelopment at the port city’s historic Kings Square.

Midway through last year, the state government appeared to back away from its commitment to relocate the Department of Housing to Fremantle, which was a key part of a 2012 plan to relocate 80,000 square metres of office space out of the CBD.

Then-finance minister Dean Nalder’s rationale at the time was that the financial fundamentals of the shift had changed, with leasing costs in the CBD less expensive than when the plan was first floated.

But Housing Minister Bill Marmion subsequently reaffirmed the government’s commitment to decentralising its office requirements, saying there was a long way to go in the decision process.

That process appears to be coming to a head, with the understanding that an announcement will be made in coming months.

The redevelopment plans, put forward by Sirona Capital in conjunction with the City of Fremantle, are focused on converting the old Myer building into a 30,000sqm office, and the reconfiguration of the Queensgate Centre into a top-class retail facility of around 12,500sqm.

The Queensgate car park will be retained under the proposal, while the vacant Spicer’s site, currently being used as a car park, will also be developed, possibly into a new hotel or apartment project.

The City of Fremantle’s civic facilities will also be replaced, with Kerry Hill Architects emerging from an international design competition to design a new administration centre, visitors’ centre and public facilities, including a sloping amphitheatre for events.

The project was expected to start last year and be completed by 2016, however the state government’s delay in announcing its intentions had altered the timeline.

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt told Business News he hoped the matter would be resolved as soon as possible, following the loss of 1,900 Fremantle Hospital workers from the area after Fiona Stanley Hospital was opened.

“Replacing those with 1,000 or so public servants would be a really important way the state government can assist Fremantle economically,” Mr Pettitt said.

He said it may not necessarily be the Department of Housing moving to Fremantle, but a mix of other departments was also being considered.

But no matter the occupant, Mr Pettitt said the catalytic effect of securing an anchor tenant for the project to begin could not be understated.

“There’s no doubt there is investor interest in Fremantle at the moment, but there is probably also a sense of waiting and seeing if these promised investments by the state government and others are actually going to happen,” he said.

“The other key component of this is bringing Fremantle’s retail mix back to life. They all connect up together in some way.”

Sirona Capital managing director Matthew McNeilly agreed that getting a state government department to commit to Fremantle was not necessarily a black and white issue.

“Clearly there is a much bigger play here, which is economic benefit, and how do you drive that in somewhere like Fremantle, which is a strategic metropolitan centre,” Mr McNeilly said.

“This project ticks all of those boxes in terms of what it can deliver.

“It’s not only government office accommodation at a competitive rate, but it is about what it drives in terms of jobs, apartment development, new tourism and visitor centres, and all those civic things that come out of this project.”

The Kings Square plan, which has a significant food and beverage focus, is also considered to be an essential development to make the city attractive to new residents.

The City of Fremantle has been committed to growing its small bar scene in recent years, with venues such as Bread in Common and The Mantle setting new standards, while relatively new coffee shops such as Moore & Moore Café, The Attic and Chalkys Espresso bar have also breathed life into the sector in recent years.

But Mr McNeilly said the food and beverage component of Kings Square was not just for local residents, with activation in that end of the city a top priority to increase tourism and hospitality spending, which totalled $781.3 million in 2013-14, according to economic analysis group id.

“What every international visitor thinks when they get to Fremantle and they’re standing in the middle of Kings Square and a tumbleweed blows by, that’s got to change,” Mr McNeilly said.

“If Fremantle is going to be presented to the world as the tourism asset that it really is for this state, Kings Square has got to be redeveloped.”

Mr McNeilly said he likened the timeline of the project to the state government-backed Cathedral + Heritage Precinct in central Perth, which is nearing completion after a long-running gestation process.

“That deal was signed in 2007, and here we are eight years later,” he said.

“Kings Square is a very similar project, it’s got a lot of the same elements, state government involvement, local government involvement, church involvement and the private sector.

“The same pieces of the puzzle are there.”

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