Thursday, November 12, 2015

NEW BRISBANE CASINO REVIEWED

Casino development adjacent to freeway.
The massive dark tower in the foreground is the new government 'power tower.'
What is the view of the 'rear' of this scheme, from George Street?

Old George Street, Brisbane.
Parliament House is in the distance;  the Treasury Building is on the right.
The zone appropriately became the government precinct of the city.

The ghosted form in the sky is the new government 'power tower.'
The adjacent buildings are a part of the casino development.
Parliament House is on the right, out of sight.

The hype appears to have settled down, so one can now think about the concept of the casino proposal for Brisbane without the promotional push blurring feelings that can stimulate a variety of emotions tending to the irrational extremes of 'like' and 'dislike.' The scheme needs careful, clear, objective thought, free from the emotive surges that confuse.



One can see why the proposal is seen by some as a great thing for Brisbane. The money spent so far on the elaborate and extensive PR must put a smile of faces in the advertising industry, suggesting that this might only be a precursor for much more profit once the project is completed.# Alas, this involves self-interest. What does the scheme really offer Brisbane as a city?



The recently refurbished 63 George Street where two existing properties were amalgamated to form a Green Star rated complex

Is the recently refurbished 63 George Street property involved in the casino development?
(Author architect)


In spite of the material that has been published, little is actually known about the project beyond some overall artist's glossy impression. It seems as though the scheme is to be built in what is currently known as the government precinct in George Street, on properties presently occupied by the Neville Bonner Building in William Street, Blocks A & B of the George Street Government Office Block, and the Executive Building. These three buildings have all won awards from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.* Other properties on the opposite side of George Street might also be involved. The precise scope of the scheme being proposed is unclear, ill-defined, as are the financial details. Does the government propose to sell this land off, to give it away, or to, perhaps, lease it? What are the arrangements that have been discussed with the developers? Will this core city government precinct become casino freehold?

View from Queen's Park on the left down William Street.
The government 'power tower' is in the background.

What is the impact of this change of use? One might understand that the new 'power tower' in William Street – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/queenslands-power-tower.html will provide accommodation for all of the departments currently occupying the buildings that are to be transferred to the developer to be demolished; or just demolished prior to any change in ownership. While one can be critical of this move on the town planning basis that it concentrates a large number of government employees in a very remote corner of the CBD, on a very small, contained site beside the freeway, and between an exit and entry ramp, far from any public transport except the ferry with its limited connections, the greater concern is the perception that government is giving way for the casino: that casino interests have 'bought' the government.

The casino rules!

The great irony of eye-catching glitz neighboring to the necessarily less ostentatious government and parliament buildings.
This image could suggest that government is being kept 'in the dark.'

In the city experience itself, with the day to day, everyday use of place, it is the glitzy casino that will be the neighbour of government and the gateway to its offices. It is not a good look. It becomes even more sinister when one views the towers in the proposal, and sees how the government's 'power tower' forms a part of the casino high-rise, high-flyers set. The location places the government literally in the hands of the casino. One could cynically suggest that the casino would be handy for the politicians.

The government 'power tower' on the right is ghosted in to appear as a part of the casino set.

The proposed casino site is opposite the Recreational Precinct of the Southbank Parklands, just upstream from the Cultural Precinct of the Performing Arts Centre, the Art Gallery, Museum and the State Library. The location gives the casino proposal a civic dominance equal to the status of these other places in the city, and to that of government itself, its neighbour. Indeed, the casino scheme might surpass these identities, dominate them with its bright, exaggerated architectural bling, that, a night, will create an eye-catching glow that is planned to attract customers like moths to a candle. The casino is very likely to command the region and have this presence highlighted by its becoming, on George Street, the gateway to the Botanical Gardens, Queensland University of Technology and to Parliament House. Brisbane is likely to be envisaged as a 'casino city' with this civic hub knitting together this inner-city region of Brisbane.

Good neighbours?
What does the casino look like form this angle with Parliament House in the foreground?

The gateway to Parliament House, QUT and the Gardens?
Where is George Street?
Where are the other buildings in the city nearby?

Now this may not be a problem. Places like Monaco and Macau thrive on such perceptions; but Brisbane is not such a compact place, nor does it have such a singularity of function in its identity and purpose. Brisbane is the largest city in the world – it has the greatest area under the management of one municipal authority. It is not much to boast about. The city spreads for kilometres with a sprawling, scattering of suburbs and smaller commercial centres reaching out to the perimeters of adjacent city zones. There is little chance that it could ever become a unique 'casino city,' but there is the possibility that the casino development could loom large in the remembrance of place, overpowering all other perceptions; clouding its reading as a pleasant, sub-tropical habitation. Does the city really want this distortion? The State and the city might like the dream of the money, but there is no guarantee of any success. What might happen when the casino interests pull out? Will this core site become a composite slum?

The casino development becomes the anchor of the city of Brisbane.
The images all show the scheme form the river or from a detail perspective point in the project.
What does it look like from the north when seen in the context of its neighbouring city structures?

Great cities of the world avoid such overwhelming dominance of interests. Consider London, Paris: these places have an intertwining of significance that enriches the city as a whole without creating a singular, over-riding, controlling identity or density of intrigue. Brisbane has something of this framework of older places, although its lack of concern with heritage buildings and its keenness to promote 'progress' does change things significantly. The opportunity is for the casino to be located elsewhere so as to re-invigorate another place in the city without transforming the government precinct that, as a structural, civic idea, does fit nicely into the city zoning. Why has this possibility been ignored? What other sites have been reviewed? Why were they rejected?

Old George Street.
The proposed casino site is in the top of the photograph.
Roma Street train and bus station is out of the image on the lower left.

This rendering illustrates the government 'power tower' on the left with more confidence.
Trees conceal the freeway in this rendering.

Consider the visitor experience: arrival at the airport; then, after the hassles of immigration and customs, off to the hotel/casino. Where? How? The George Street site is remote from all existing integrated transport services. Only the river ferry is nearby, with a flashy, new terminal in 'discount' orange: Jetstar and Easyjet come to mind. What has the colour to do with Brisbane – just warmth? One recalls old ferry pontoon experiences, the bouncing ramp; the swaying pontoon; the timber rails used as a seat; the breezy fresh air; the rain; the water splashing; the step up and over into the ferry: gone! This ferry terminal is accessed from below the freeway. It was a grim space to approach. Originally the access to the previous pontoon was through a one metre wide path between security chain wire fencing around government car parking areas. It was horrid. How is this going to be bettered? Even so, our visitor is at the airport that has no immediate relationship with the river traffic. There are trains, buses and taxis, limousines too if one has a preference for these. The George Street location is accessible for taxis and limousines only. Central Station is hardly central, being located on the western fringe of the CBD, well away from the proposed site. The Roma Street bus and train station is at the western end of George Street and offers no convenience at all for casino access at its George Street site that is blocks away. Brisbane has no well-serviced Marienplatz core like Munich; or a Place de la Concorde like Paris. The proposed casino site is not easily accessed at all; nor is it central to anything but to the convenience of 'free' government land that is to be vacated.

The freeway remains a dominant feature of the area in spite of the illustrated green zones.

Perhaps the casino would be better located directly at a transport hub if it is to be such an attraction? Why not enhance convenience and develop the casino over the nasty expanse of railway yards at Roma Street, directly adjacent to train and bus access, and to taxis too: and to the new park there. It would make much more sense than being developed in the government precinct, a location that is not really desirable for any business, commercial or recreational centre, but is perfect for government. Its proximity to Parliament makes it an ideal government zone. Its remoteness from the CBD does likewise. Governments are best kept off to one side, out of everyone's face. Unfortunately, the 'power tower' puts it right back there.

Shopping centres - but where are they?


With the likely dominance of the hyped casino identity, what impact will the project have on the existing CBD and its businesses? Today, one can already see the mall as an empty space, a void, that is becoming more and more cluttered with development. The new two-story cafe/bar at Albert Street sets a terrible example of overcrowding, breaking the continuity of the public area for private interest. Why would folk hang around this space when the casino offers a greater fascination and variety of attraction all under the one roof? One needs to know much more about the casino proposal in order to be more articulate, but just the report that says that the Treasury Building is to be remodelled into an 'upmarket' shopping centre causes much concern. Envisage the bright lights and big brand names of a large, air-conditioned airport departure area, full of shops and people milling, searching expectantly for the surprise purchase; then consider the mall and the existing outlets. The impact of the new is likely to be severe. A city of Brisbane's size has its limits on shopping outlets, especially when cheek by jowl. The danger is that the casino and its associated services and outlets will be like the cliché shopping centre on the fringe of a town: it will suck the energy out of the older place; kill it. Brisbane is likely to develop a ghostly heart with a cancerous growth on one side, right next to parliament. Is this the intention? It could be otherwise.

The Treasury Building fitted out as a shopping centre.
How much refurbishment can an historic building take and still maintain its integrity?

The glitz and gleam of the casino hype will dominate the river.

There is a strong argument for the casino to go elsewhere; for it to enliven another place that needs it. It could disperse, gather and re-invent civic energy in a way that would make the city throb. Such a location would enrich the place, add vibrancy, rather than relocate and distort it to suit the casino's needs and ambitions. Government has to consider the proposal not only as a dollar game, but as a serious piece of infrastructure that can make the city glow as a whole, not just in part or artificially. One need not begin arguing about the morals of gambling. This has nothing to do with the consideration here that concentrates on the impact of the George Street proposal on the city experience.


Where's the freeway? Where's the freeway plume?

The illustrations of the casino proposal to date all play down the freeway. If the casino really wants a riverside place, why not Hamilton, on a site free of any freeway, close to the airport and river traffic? The freeway will always be noisy and polluted; these vehicular ways do not change unless they are buried completely. Government knows from the development of its own offices adjacent to this traffic artery that it gives off a toxic plume of gases. Will the sky deck be a health risk? Will the buildings be a death trap? It is incredibly difficult to manage the presence of a freeway. These structures have the classic, dim, grim, below-bridge spaces that always look decrepit, as well as the distraction, the noise and pollution of thousands of cars an hour passing, in this case, right next to the casino. Do casino patrons really want this unhealthy distraction? Are the developers cynical enough to know that patrons get placed in totally artificial environments so that they lose all sense of time, making the freeway a non-issue: buried people, not freeways? Noise and pollution travel: will the sky deck really be the 'desirable' place it has been illustrated to be? Will it become a distraction for our public servants in their 'power tower' that seems to overlook it?

The freeway gets buried in the glow of reflections, but the cars, the noise and the pollution remain.

Parliament House

The bridge extends the impact of the casino development across the river.
What does it connect to and why?

There are many matters that cause one much concern when the casino proposal is reviewed. More needs to be known about this development so that one can be specific and precise on all aspects of it. Why is it kept such a secret? One has to be concerned that there is so much bright, hopeful and colourful hype in the PR that suggests that everything will be great for Brisbane – just what it needs. If this is truly so, why limit information? The worry is that the detail might not be there; that the proposal is being approved as a diagram alone, like Gold Coast developments: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/gold-ghost-city-planning.html  That such an important portion of the city might get handed over to developers causes much anxiety. It creates the image of Brisbane only as a 'casino city.' The river vistas will be dominated by the casino that even has its own bridge pointing to it, right across the centre of that portion of the river that has, for years, been left open for the annual river festival. Why tolerate development in this area of the river now; why bifurcate it? Is it casino pressure that is encouraging this? Can the casino see itself as becoming the anchor of the fire festival? We need developments that will create good neighbours, appropriate neighbours; that shape places that make all others better, not projects that move in and dominate for their own special interests. In nature this is like the Indian Mynah bird moving into a region and killing off, frightening off all the native species. Brisbane is not there for casino developers. Brisbane needs to properly manage such 'predatory pests' if it is to survive with pride and dignity. It must look after itself before it rushes ahead blindly listening to all of the agreeable, dreamy, 'if-only' blurb that could turn out to be a nightmare. Brisbane needs a rigorous plan that can be achieved rather than responding happily on an ad hoc basis to any suggestion that might pop up: WOW!

Old Queen/George Street intersection.
What does Brisbane want to be?

What in particular does the bridge link?
We need to know more:
Exactly what is the scope for this project?
What properties are to be given/transferred/sold to the developer?
What are the legal and financial arrangements for property?
What accommodation is to be included in the project?
Have alternative options been considered?
How is transport to be organised for the scheme? . . . . .

What is the full extent of the area to be developed?
Exactly what is going where?

This list of questions has by no means been exhausted. As more becomes known, more questions will need to be asked. The proposition here is that the casino will be better off located elsewhere. There has been no argument otherwise, just hype on hype of why it has to be and, surprisingly, will be! - see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/09/brisbanes-new-casino-proposal-approved.html In the end, believing in hype is just too easy a fantasy. We need to confront the tough questions with openly considered and thoroughly thoughtful, honest responses.



#
23 November 2015

Not much has changed:

Famous controversy raged when the local community heard of this proposal in early 1999 (to let Baywatch use Avalon as a permanent location). On one side were those who scented opportunities for profit in the business a large television production unit would bring; those who liked the idea of promoting the charms of Avalon to the world; and the local surf lifesaving club, chronically short of money, whose clubhouse had already been refurbished with Baywatch help (and the promise of more to come.) Those opposing it had resented what they saw as an attempt by Baywatch to take over the beach, aggravated by the perceived high-handedness of Baywatch staff during the previous year's filming.

Leone Huntsman Sand in our Souls The Beach in Australian History Melbourne University Press 2001 p.87-88.

LETTER SENT TO THE EDITOR, The Courier Mail 23 November 2015:

BRISBANE - CASINO CITY?

Editor,

Now that the Department of State Development has reached what it calls 'contractual close on the $3 billion Queen's Wharf Brisbane Integrated Development' with the Destination Brisbane Consortium, one has to aks: what exactly has been agreed to? The information released by the Department tells us that 'the destination Brisbane Consortium – The Star Entertainment Group (formerly Echo Entertainment Group), Far East Consortium (Australia) and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises – is now the contractor responsible for delivering the world-class tourism, leisure and entertainment precinct in the heart of the brisbane CBD;' and that 'site works are anticipated to commence in 2017.

It seems that there are many details that remain unstated. Exactly what has the government agreed to on our behalf? Are we entitled to know? There is the matter of 'more than 12 football fields' of prime inner-city land involved in this agreement. How is this being managed in the contract? There are five government buildings, three of which are award-winning structures. What is happening to this twentieth century heritage? There are reportedly: 'five new premium hotel brands; three residential towers; a new department store; around 50 food and beverage outlets; a new pedestrian bridge to South Bank; an iconic signature “Arc” building, including a spectacular feature Sky Deck; a riverfront moonlight cinema; and a Queensland Hotel and Hospitality School partnership with TAFE Queensland' that will be included in the project. How are these handled in the contract? Why can we not be told?

Then there is the money: $272 million to go the State; and a guarantee of $880 million in casino taxes for the first ten years of operations. What happens after this? It seems that these figures are based on an additional 1.39 million tourists per annum that will bring $1.69 billion increase per annum, (a figure that, interestingly, is equal to the estimated weight in pounds of cigarette butts discarded per annum), that equates to a total of $4 billion to the Gross State Product. Where did these figures come from? Are they a part of the contract? What else is included? What is not included? How long does this contract run? What happens if these estimated figures are not achieved? There are many more questions that need to be responded to.

These are staggering figures that can be better understood if they are broken down to manageable, everyday pieces. Assuming that the $272 million is a one-off initial payment, on a daily basis, the other figures break down to: $240,000 taxes per day for ten years; 3800 extra tourists each day (about 10 extra jumbo jets a day); bringing an annual increase of $4.6 million from tourists per day ($1200 per tourist per day); giving a total of $11 million per day to the Gross State Product. Are the figures correct? For how long? Just what has the State agreed to? Do the 'increases' allow for the losses others might incur with such a large-scale development? Can one be sure of such optimistic predictions?

While there are many questions needing an answer, it is the matter of this Queen's Wharf Brisbane casino development becoming the dominant core of the city of Brisbane that is most concerning. The Department of State Development information says that the project 'will be the hub that connects the defining parts of the city – the Botanic Gardens, the Queen Street Mall, the Cultural Precinct, South Bank, the Parliamentary Precinct and the Brisbane River,' as if this was a sensible strategy. The city can have its casino development, but giving the prime riverfront city centre, the existing government precinct, to casino developers to create the city's 'hub' that will have dominion over everything around it, even parliament and the river, is a serious act that borders on planning foolishness. That our government sees no problem with its new tower becoming a part of the set of high-rise structures in the casino development must be a cause for concern. Alarmingly, the tower is on land that is included in the defined development area. The appearance is that the casino developer has the government in its hands.

Has it? Who knows, because everything apart from the hype seems to be a secret. Will Brisbane become known as the 'casino city'? There is every expectation that it will when the Department of State Development is happy to promote the development as the new hub of Brisbane's civic place - the entry too the Parliamentary Precinct and to the new government office building; the George Street entry to QUT and the Botanical Gardens; the city icon linked by bridge to the subservient South Bank Parklands and the Cultural Centre; and the core anchor for the Queen Street Mall: Queen's Wharf Brisbane - casino city?

And if it goes 'pear-shaped'?

Spence Jamieson


see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/queens-place-london-casino-development_16.html


5 December 2015
*
IF WE DO NOT HONOUR OUR PAST
WE LOSE OUR FUTURE
IF WE DESTROY OUR ROOTS
WE CANNOT GROW

Hundertwasser KunstHausWein Taschen 1999, p.51



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