Four of Perth’s iconic sporting and community venues are going through major planning and redevelopment projects – but that’s where the similarities end.
William Hames’ phone has been running hot this month since his architecture practice was appointed to develop a concept plan for the future of Claremont Showground.
“The minute it was announced I got a phone call from every developer in town who wants to slice and dice a piece of this – apartments, office buildings, you name it,” the Hames Sharley executive chairman told Business News.
“Well, we’re not going to sell the farm; that’s certainly not the intention.”
“That has not been raised once, we’ve never asked them, it’s not our intention,” Mr Harding said.
While redevelopment is not the focus, Mr Hames has acknowledged it is a possibility.
“There might be a corner somewhere that is superfluous to our needs, so you never say never,” he said.
“If there is (a spare corner), it hasn’t been identified yet.”
The RAS focus contrasts with the path taken by the WA Cricket Association, Perth Racing and Gloucester Park Harness Racing (formerly WA Trotting Association).
All three organisations have prepared master plans that feature apartment developments on surplus land, to bolster their long-term financial viability.
Perth Racing is the most advanced, having banked a $51 million cheque from property developer Golden Group in June.
The WACA’s plans have been more contentious, after chairman-elect George Jones resigned in August because he disagreed with the majority of board members on the redevelopment agreement with Ascot Capital.
Ascot Capital has agreed to put more equity into the project to ensure it can secure bank funding, and is confident work will commence next month.
Gloucester Park has completed environmental, geotechnical and heritage reports ahead of the planned sale of surplus land via a tender process.
However chief executive Michael Radley said those plans were currently on hold while it awaits a pick-up in the apartment market.
The challenge for all these groups is the intense competition from established developers, such as Frasers in East Perth, Finbar in Rivervale, and Lend Lease at the Riverbank site next to the Causeway.
Mr Hames said his focus was on the long-term sustainability of the showgrounds.
“If they slice and dice it, that’s of no long-term value. You make one windfall gain and it’s history,” he said.
“This whole exercise is about how you find activities, uses, functions that make this place sustainable and help the business grow.”
Mr Hames said three ‘pillars’ that defined the showground’s role would inform his work – to engage, educate and entertain.
“Think about it, they are in the second biggest industry in Western Australia – food production,” he said.
“Mining is number one, but in 1,000 years mining won’t be here, while food production will.
“It’s a sustainable industry, its rapidly changing, it’s not hayseeds, it’s high technology. We are the best dry-land farmers in the world.
“So if you want to showcase yourself, this is a great place to do it.
“If you want to educate the urban community, and if you want to attract innovative people to the land, to think about an agricultural career, this is a fantastic location.
“When the city has 4 or 5 million people, this site will be even more valuable for doing that.”
Mr Hames said the concept plan for the showground may not even involve new buildings, but instead may propose more effective ways of using the site.
“We carry no risk, it’s not a joint venture,” Mr van Heemst said.
“We get a fixed proportion of the build-out value; the $51 million is a non-refundable deposit.”
That money was used to reimburse $11 million of expenses incurred in the approvals process.
The balance has been set aside for the redevelopment of the Belmont Park grandstand and infrastructure upgrades at Ascot racecourse.
Golden Group is also required to help fund the grandstand refurbishment, the relocation of car parking, stalls and race day facilities, and a new health club – projects that collectively will cost up to $60 million.
“They have a substantial amount they have to spend on our behalf,” Mr van Heemst said.
Golden Group’s plans for the site envisage as many as 4,500 apartments, 80,000 square metres of offices and 40,000sqm of retail.
It has proposed eight apartment towers of up to 53 storeys, the tallest in Perth.
The latest drawings for the site, prepared by Hames Sharley, depict three high-rise towers at the eastern end of the racecourse, next to the railway station planned to service the adjacent football stadium.
However, he said the group was looking at potential retail stores and a supermarket in its phase one development, which would have up to 1,500 apartments.
“These people are not dependent on bank finance; they have the wherewithal to make it happen,” he said.
The WACA project has suffered several setbacks, including George Jones’ resignation and speculation about the number of international cricket matches to be played at the ground in future.
Earlier this year, Ascot Capital halved the size of the first building – the Gardens– to 76 apartments keep the project on track.
Ascot director Dave van der Walt said his group was close to starting work, after agreeing to put more equity into the project and completing 43 “confirmed and unconditional” sales.
“It’s eminently bankable, he told Business News.
Mr van der Walt said the building contract had been finalised, but not yet signed.
He was also confident that bank funding would be finalised by mid November.
Mr van der Walt anticipated workers would be on site in a couple of weeks, for early works, and expected construction to start in February after the completion of major cricket matches.