People from around the world are about to converge on a new food, retail and entertainment mecca. Their destination? Brisbane.
The Destination Brisbane consortium (made up of Echo Entertainment Group, Far East Consortium and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises) made bold promises in their bid to defeat James Packer’s Crown group for the right to develop Queen’s Wharf, and now that they’ve won, it’s time to deliver.
The casino, hospitality and retail precinct – which has been billed as the most important development in Brisbane since World Expo ’88 spurred the regeneration of South Brisbane – will include five new hotels, three residential towers, 50 restaurants and bars, a moonlight cinema, a new lyric theatre at QPAC, 12 football fields worth of public space, and the visually striking Arc building, with a Sky Deck as its centrepiece.
All told, the Queen’s Wharf site will cover approximately 10 percent of Brisbane’s central business district. It’s hard to get your head around the enormity of that figure – so let’s just focus on the food for now.
“What’s most exciting for me are all the new food and beverage offerings,” says celebrity chef Luke Nguyen. “With five new hotels and 50 restaurants, cafes and bars, ranging from fine dining, casual eating to market stalls, this will put Brisbane and Queensland on the world culinary map as an international dining destination.”
The popular host of Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam was the first chef brought on board by Echo to spearhead the transformation of The Star in Sydney in 2009, before bringing The Fat Noodle to Echo’s Treasury Hotel & Casino in Brisbane. It’s inevitable that he’ll be one of the first chefs to set up shop in Queen’s Wharf, and he’s already got a few ideas about how he might do that.
“When I found out about the Queen’s Wharf win, I was overwhelmed with excitement,” he says. “I could really see myself doing not just one concept, but possibly a few. I would love to do a French Vietnamese restaurant and possibly a fun market stall serving my favourite street food dishes from all over Asia.
“Queen’s Wharf should cater to a range of budgets because it will attract all walks of life, from students to families, passionate foodies, international guests and all varieties of special occasions.”
Brisbane is a city that is perpetually ‘coming of age’, but Luke believes the Queen’s Wharf development will see us finally catch up to our cosmopolitan cousins down south.
“We often argue if Sydney or Melbourne has the best cafes, bars and restaurants… but now with Queen’s Wharf in the picture, Australia has a new contender.
“In Sydney and Melbourne, punters are spoilt for choice. You can eat at a different restaurant every day of the year. Brisbane restaurants are just as good in quality; we just need more of them, and Queen’s Wharf will bring this to Brisbane.”
Before Luke was associated with Echo,he rose to prominence as the owner of Red Lantern in Surry Hills. He doesn’t think owners of similar businesses in Brisbane should be worried about the monolithic development on their doorstep.
“I know for a fact that with all the incredible new offerings that Queen’s Wharf will bring to Brisbane, it will draw that much more tourism to Brisbane that all the small local restaurants will, without a doubt, be busy,” he insists. “It will place Brisbane on the list of international foodie destinations to visit, next to Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Bangkok and Saigon.”
Geoff Hogg, Echo Entertainment’s Queensland managing director, shares Luke’s desire for Queen’s Wharf to put Brisbane on the culinary map.
“One of the key visions for this development is that it raises the state’s profile when it comes to food, dining and produce,” he says. “It can be used to drive agricultural trade and showcase Brisbane as Australia’s most progressive food city.
“If you look at recent Tourism Australia research, it shows that great food, wine and local cuisine is the third most important factor in the choice of a holiday destination. When you consider that number one is safety and security, and number two is value for money,you can understand how important food, wine and local cuisine become for attracting tourists, both domestic and international, to our state.”
Geoff sees the establishment of a new food festival, a diverse array of restaurants run by celebrity chefs, and a commitment to late night dining as essential steps towards establishing Queen’s Wharf – and, by extension, Brisbane – as a hub for foodies.
“We’re very keen to add a new culinary event to the calendar in Brisbane, and have a food festival that is really on a global scale,” he confirms. “Creating public realm that allows you to have thousands of people coming along and actually embracing the whole precinct is very important to us. So Queen’s Wharf has partly been designed so that it can host these very large events.
“Certainly, we know all our existing chefs and operators, whether they’re at Treasury or The Star in Sydney today, are all very excited about Queen’s Wharf, and we’ll be giving the majority of them an opportunity to work with us here. It goes a lot broader, as well. We’ll be looking at who the new celebrity chefs are, and making sure that we give Queensland chefs who are really recognised, either locally or globally, opportunities within Queen’s Wharf.
“There’ll be a full range of cuisines, cooking styles and concepts at a range of price points. We want restaurants and food outlets to be located in the top hotels, across retail, in the entertainment zones, and throughout the public realm and the outdoor space. Whether that’s bars, pop-ups, street stalls, markets, they’ve all got a part to play in the variety of the food offering and its activation.
“We want to encourage weekday use, but also late night offerings. We want to create a real late night dining scene where you can get a great bite to eat at one o’clock in the morning, which we don’t offer much as a city today.
“If you look at it from an international tourism perspective, a large number of people are travelling around the globe, and their clocks are very different to ours. When you arrive in another country, you might be hungry at three o’clock in the morning, and we want to make sure that for all those tourists, no matter what time of the day they get that hunger and desire to get a bite to eat, that we have a number of food outlets open.
“At any time of day, we’ll have outlets open that will showcase not just the food that’s available in our city, but really, all the different flavours across Queensland, from North Queensland barramundi to Hervey Bay scallops to mud crabs to tropical fruit to horticulture.
You have to showcase all of that, whether your opportunity is at two in the afternoon or two in the morning.
“You want to know tourists had the opportunity to embrace what’s great about Brisbane, and what’s great about Queensland produce.”
Before you rush to book a table, keep in mind that work isn’t expected to start on Queen’s Wharf until 2017, when ministerial offices and public servants move into the new executive building that’s currently under construction at 1 William Street, and the existing government buildings within the Queen’s Wharf precinct can be vacated.
“One of the pieces of the public realm is likely to be commenced early, however,” Geoff reveals, “and that’s the area between 1 William Street and the Goodwill Bridge. Primarily, that area is not going to be impacted by continual construction and development, and therefore we can actually commence that very early in the piece. With the core development sites, though, the reality is that it actually does take a lot of time to build something like this.
“By the time we get to 2019, 2020, people will really start to see the core development and the structure take shape. By the time we get to 2021, the majority of the work will be focussing a lot more on the internal fit-out before the opening in 2022.”
The non-Heritage buildings within the precinct will be bulldozed – this includes the Neville Bonner building, which was named Building of the Year by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1999, but it also includes a number of under-utilised government buildings, and severely neglected land under the Riverside Expressway that has long been ripe for redevelopment.
Construction work will take place mostly at night, in order to cause minimal disruption to traffic in the CBD. The Riverside Expressway will be largely unaffected, although some lanes will be restricted when the Riverside Terrace is being built.
Aside from James Packer and friends – whose rival consortium offered a six-star hotel, two five-star hotels, restaurants run by celebrity chefs Neil Perry and Guillaume Brahimi, a new cinema and theatre complex, a water park, a casino and a bridge with a suspended waterfall in their ultimately unsuccessful bid – there has been remarkably little opposition to the Destination Brisbane scheme.
In announcing the victor, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk indicated that the Destination Brisbane consortium got the nod because of the large amount of public space for families, and because they were able to demonstrate to the government that they were ready to proceed.
“We needed to have that financial security,” she said. In a rare show of bipartisan support, both the State Government (which came to power months after both proposals had already been submitted) and the Opposition have come forward to take credit for the development.
State Development Minister Dr Anthony Lynham has been particularly effusive – when the winning bid was announced, he said the project will be “transformational for Brisbane” and “do what South Bank did for Brisbane 30 years ago”.
The potential for Heritage-listed buildings to play a prominent role in the development has no doubt helped to smooth the way. The Heritage-listed Treasury Building, already under Echo Entertainment’s control, will cease to be a casino – avoiding the awkward question of whether the Brisbane CBD has room for two casinos, which would had to have been asked if Crown had won. Instead, it will become a department store, leading down to an underground shopping plaza that will link up with the Queen Street Mall.
“It’s about assisting with the connectivity of the precinct, and creating opportunities for retailers that’ll really complement what we already have in the city,” Geoff Hogg says. “We’re focussing on brands that aren’t available in Brisbane today, and making sure we also have enough focus on local retailers, making sure they get a chance to showcase their products, particularly to the domestic and international tourists who come through the city.
“There is the possibility that some of the high-end brands that are in the city today might want a second store, but we primarily want to make sure we focus on expanding the range of offerings that are available in Brisbane.”
The old State Library in William Street will become a centre for tourists interested in the history of Brisbane, next to a museum in Brisbane’s oldest building, the Old Commissariat Building.
“It’s very easy to focus on the new infrastructure and the new hotels that are being built, but a key part of this precinct is our history and our heritage,” Geoff says. “It’s a real chance, when tourists come to Brisbane, for them to really understand our history, right from our traditional owners and their impact on the land when they were first here, through to the first historic buildings that were built here.
“Obviously, Brisbane’s my home, for myself and my family, so this is a project that’s very, very close to what we’re all about. I’ve been very pleased to have a number of very talented local architects work on the development with us, and I think when you look at it, you can see that this is a group of people who really understand our city, our sub-tropical climate, and our appreciation for the outdoors.
“It’s something I’m very proud to be part of, and there’s certainly a lot of personal emotion and joy that’s gone into this. We all understand how important this is for our city, and we’re very excited to take it to the next stage and deliver on that vision.”