Mall development plan years away

 BREAKTHROUGH plans to redevelop the Hunter Street Mall could be at least two years from being completed, according to confidential Newcastle City Council documents that relate to the sale of the King Street car park.

The council knocked back several private bids to buy the parking station last year after state government developer UrbanGrowth NSW and the GPT Group announced they would revive plans to redevelop the adjacent mall.

A confidential council report now recommends that the city agrees to sell the car park to the development consortium, but in two years’ time.

The price would be agreed in advance and the developers would lease the parking station from the council in the meantime.

The car park site is strategically important to any development plan because it would allow the UrbanGrowth NSW and GPT partnership to consolidate the land holdings between Hunter and King streets.

The deal struck with the council would allow planning work to proceed on the assumption the site would be made available. But physical work on the proposed residential, commercial and niche retail development is unlikely before the sale is completed.

The council agreed to sell the site to GPT for about $4million in 2008, and it was included in the investment group’s now-abandoned plans for a $600million retail shopping complex.

Last year, it was listed for sale along with council-owned parking stations in Gibson and Bolton streets.

Tenders included proposals to buy all three car parks, but the council decided not to sell the King Street site after  talks  with UrbanGrowth NSW, formerly Landcom.

The other car parks were sold together for about $10million.

UrbanGrowth NSW chief executive Sean O’Toole told councillors  last year the mall redevelopment could be ‘‘the greatest urban renewal project in the country’’.

Plans to revitalise the Hunter Street Mall are still in ‘‘concept development’’ but will be put on ice if the state government does a backflip on its $120million vision for the CBD.

A spokesman for UrbanGrowth NSW said it was working with GPT on the ‘‘best case scenario’’ that the O’Farrell government will deliver on the Newcastle Urban Renewal Strategy announced in December.

The strategy includes ending the rail line at Wickham – although there is speculation that it could end at Broadmeadow, as reported in the Herald last week – and a new transport interchange west of Stewart Avenue. It also earmarks the East End as a mixed retail, entertainment and residential precinct and the West End as the city’s new commercial centre. 

UrbanGrowth NSW and GPT – which respectively own a two-thirds and one-third share of the Hunter Street mall precinct between Newcomen and Perkins streets – will not reveal their concept plans until the government’s strategy is officially approved. 

A decision cannot be made before March17, when the period of community consultation expires.

‘‘[The government] announced what they want to do with the city, they have put out their grand vision, but they have to allow the public to consider that ... and we are contingent on that,’’ the spokesman said.

Once the government has ‘‘locked in’’ its strategy, GPT and UrbanGrowth NSW will show their hand. 

Until then, the city developers are ‘‘working on the best-case scenario’’ of the rail line being cut, ‘‘but if that doesn’t go ahead we are back to square one’’.

‘‘We’d rather make sure the decision is permanent before we put out any ideas and build up people’s hopes,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘There is a huge contingency factor – is the rail line going to be there or not, because if it is still there, then it doesn’t matter what we are doing, we have to change it all.’’

In a briefing to Newcastle City Council in mid-December, Urban GrowthNSW chief executive Sean O’Toole said the mall redevelopment could be ‘‘the greatest urban renewal project in the country’’.

But he said the government body was ‘‘de-risking’’ the project and doing preliminary work on mine subsidence but was not spending ‘‘real’’ money until the government made a definitive call. 

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