By ERWIN CHLANDA
If it comes off it will be nothing like the town has seen since the hospital was built in the mid-1970s: a $100m project, eight storeys high, 170 dwellings, an 85 room hotel, professional office space, restaurants, cafes – even a 110 place child care centre – all that adjacent to the CBD, on the empty Melanka site, now a painful symbol of the town’s economic malaise.
At the moment Osborne Projects is cautious: “We are currently in the early Design and Viability Phase of the potential re-development on the old Melanka Site,” says the website launched today.
If it works it will restore faith in the town’s future.
Worst case scenario: We’re throwing good money – such as proceeds from the sale of TIO, which we need – at housing, which we don’t.
The NT Government is currently subsidising 45 dwellings under construction in Alice Springs now.
Developer Dean Osborne (pictured at left with architect James Forbes – centre –and Zac Neck – right), acting on behalf of the owner, Eden Developments (NT) Pty Ltd, says there have been discussions with the government about this Housing for Growth option, rent guarantees for some 70 apartments. There has been no commitment.
“The project has to stand on its own two feet,” he says. “I’d like to think the population of Alice Springs will support it.”
When the hospital was finished in 1974 and some 1000 tradies and families left town, a vigorous tourism industry took up the slack. First Chief Minister Paul Everingham soon started building the Ayers Rock Resort.
Today the tourism industry has contracted, is bereft of any vision for the future, and Ayers Rock Resort resort is draining vital income from the town.
Failure with Melanka, many say, is not an option.
Mr Osborne, who now lives in Darwin, previously spent 12 years in Alice Springs.
When he gave his pitch to the town council meeting last night, the mood was bullish: the 15 minute slot he’d been allocated blew out to one hour and 10 minutes.
Tell me if you want me to stop, Mr Osborne offered several times. Keep going, was the unanimous request.
His presentation was rich on appealing features – private outdoor areas, personal BBQs and veggie patches, office workers able to store their bicycles in secure rooms (costing $400,000 to build but encouraging staff to ride to work), a star gazing rooftop – plus the usual trappings such as two 25 metre lap pools and gyms.
But Mr Osborne was blunt on expectations that the project may be the saviour of the local construction industry: Alice tradies would be encouraged to put in bids, but the project needs a big builder – bigger possibly than Sitzlers, “up to 300 people on site, 50 plasterers, 45 tilers”.
And, especially, local suppliers will have to sharpen their pencil: “$280 a metre for concrete? I nearly fell over.”
The South Australian government provides subsidies for building firms venturing interstate for projects.
Mr Osborne said he’s often asked, who’s going to live in all these apartments?
He forecasts that on-shore gas production in the NT will create a boom that will trigger demand for accommodation.
He expects the NT Government to push this: It’s a no-brainer – on-shore royalties flow to the state, off-shore to the Feds.
“Central Australia will be in the forefront of that push,” he says.
And so, after a two-month period for public comment after the Christmas holidays, providing an opportunity to make suggestions on some of the features, a sales office will open at the site, offering strata title ownership.
If enough cash flows, construction will start in the middle of next year.
For housing the cost will range from the mid to high $200K (one bedroom) to around $700,000 (three bedrooms).
There won’t be any millionaire’s penthouses – no market for them, says Mr Osborne.
He accepted that the eight storey height may be challenged by some. The mandatory limit in Alice Springs is still three storeys. Approval for five has been given for the Supreme Court building in Parsons Street.
But none of the councillors last night raised major objections.
Deputy Mayor Kylie Bonnani said an image (pictured at top) shown by Mr Osborne should be circulated widely: It shows, as seen from Anzac Hill, that the building obscures very little of the ranges, and none of The Gap.
The only reservation was expressed by Cr Jade Kudenko who suggested that for Aboriginal people the important sightlines may not necessarily be from Anzac Hill. Have they been consulted? she asked.
Mr Osborne said he had spoken to the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and there will be ongoing consultation with it, not in the least to deal with the sacred trees on the Melanka site being protected, and in fact featuring as an enhancement of the new buildings.
He explained the economies of scale with respect to height: For example, take a crane. It takes seven trucks to transport it and its foundation alone costs $180,000. The Melanka building will need two tower cranes.
Considering what equipment is cost effective, eight, 14 and 30 storeys make sense. Five is “no man’s land”.
In any case, the buildings are only three metres higher than the tallest trees.
The proposal for the 13,100 square metre site – equal to 18 large house blocks – draws on the experience from two big and several smaller projects in Darwin.
It’s all in the detail, says Mr Osborne, adapted to the special conditions of Alice. One of them is its being located on a flood plain.
All commercial and residential spaces will be raised above the Q100 – the level of a flood likely to to occur every 100 years. That’s one metre above Gap Road.
That part of car parking which is underground is the exception. Water can be kept out by sandbagging of just two entrances, but residents will be recommended to move their vehicles when there is a flood alert.
Security will be enhanced by strong lighting all ’round the three towers, by using about 100 security cameras, some motion activated; by locking gates to block public access to the lane at the western side at night and weekends, and careful design of the street scape, avoiding places where people can hide.
The lane is part of a land swap with the town council, also including an increase of car parking on the Gap Road frontage, from 17 to 34 car parks, on an angle.
The sketches show rather bland buildings but that can change in line with public input, especially the colours.
The only attempt to blend in with the old-Alice style buildings will be the childcare facility on the part of the block that juts out to the west to Hartley Street, between existing houses.
Heritage architect, Domenico Pecorari – one of the town’s most vocal opponents to high-rise – has been hired to do the design.
On the flat roofs strata title owners will be able to buy space for private photovoltaic panels, and hot water will also be solar.
It’s all part of the concept of an urban village – take the lift down and have a coffee, or up to see the sun set on the ranges.
The Osborne group has learned some useful lessons as the caretaker of strata title complexes in Darwin. The leases, Mr Osborne says, are a “fully transparent” 20 plus 20 deal, all fees disclosed up-front, and governed by the NT’s “good laws”.
Corporate memory is a useful thing; it makes sense not to farm out the project management to someone with constantly changing staff.
“Intellectual property” of a full time on-site manager is vital, building up familiarity about the operation, what plants to grow, and what pests need to be coped with.