Sydney’s front door gets a facelift

Convicts, concert goers and city commuters have all passed through Sydney’s gateway. Now, as more than $3 billion in private sector investment pours into Circular Quay, the precinct is poised for reinvention.

Circular Quay is undergoing a new wave of development. Six significant commercial, residential, hotel and transport development projects are in the pipeline, including Lendlease’s $1.5 billion Circular Quay Tower, AMP Capital’s $1 billion Quay Quarter and Mirvac’s new skyscraper at 55 Pitt Street. Together with a ferry terminal upgrade and the unfolding Light Rail, Circular Quay is rolling out a new welcome mat.

Joseph Conrad once called it “one of the finest, most beautiful, vast and safe bays the sun had ever shone upon”. More than 35 million passengers and 50 million pleasure-seekers pass through Circular Quay each year. Positioned between the unfurling wave of the Sydney Opera House and the steel span of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the precinct is expected to attract 81 million tourists by 2041.

The traditional owners, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, fished along the rocky shores and mudflats that lined Sydney Cove, launching their canoes and drinking from the Tank Stream which flowed out to sea. The First Fleet landed on the spot in 1788, as Captain Arthur Phillip looked for a bay “in which ships can anchor so close to the shore, that in a very small expense quays may be constructed at which the largest vessels may unload”.

Wharves and jetties soon sprung up along the mudflats. Convicts built roads, bridges and buildings, carving out sandstone from the Argyle Cut to construct what was then dubbed Semi-Circular Quay.

Today, the steady stream of convicts has been replaced with cruise ship passengers and city commuters, the brothels and the bubonic plague traded for buskers, the fishing for fine dining.

Creating new kerb appeal

“Circular Quay is Sydney’s front door,” says Tim Blythe, managing partner at Urbis. The current development projects feature “inspiring new architecture”, the restoration and celebration of our early colonial history, street-edge activation and new public spaces and laneways,” he says.

But Blythe says the precinct currently lacks ‘kerb appeal’.

“The waterfront promenade is congested, cluttered and unappealing. The wharves and the waterfront, and their connection with the wider precinct, are the missing piece and the greatest opportunity of all.”

In 2015, the NSW Government earmarked $200 million to upgrade the Circular Quay ferry wharves and is now exploring renewal beyond the wharf in partnership with the private sector. Transport for NSW is sifting through tenders before deciding to proceed with a full precinct renewal or simply a wharf upgrade, with a decision imminent.

Meanwhile, $3 billion-plus in private sector investment is already underway, with Lendlease, Mirvac and AMP Capital currently driving development.

Luke Briscoe, managing director of AMP Capital’s office and industrial business, is currently leading the Quay Quarter Sydney project which will upgrade several heritage buildings and deliver a 49-storey office tower at 50 Bridge Street.

Shaping Sydney’s Skyline

Briscoe says Quay Quarter Sydney is “one of those rare opportunities to shape not only the skyline with its iconic architecture but have a genuine impact for Sydney as a whole”.

Quay Quarter Tower will feature a series of shifting glass volumes that rotate towards breath-taking views of Sydney Harbour, while three luxury buildings at Loftus Lane will house residential and boutique office buildings above an urban laneway network.

Briscoe says Quay Quarter brings together “bold customer-centric designed workspaces, bustling laneways, unique retail amenities, gardens and the beautifully designed residential apartments” that will see the precinct “become a neighbourhood in itself”.

Mirvac has lodged a planning proposal for a premium tower at 55 Pitt Street, while residential developments by Chinese developers Landream and Yuhu are on the go.

Lendlease is planning the 55-storey Circular Quay Tower which project director Kimberley Jackson says will also “restore a sense of place” to the precinct. The tower will be surrounded by two public plazas and laneways lined with shops, cafés and bars.

Jackson says “unlocking this highly-connected part of the city will support the next generation of workers and re-energise this part of the CBD”.

Designed by Foster + Partners, the 263-metre high building is on track to become Sydney's tallest office tower. The design has achieved pre-certification for a platinum WELL rating, with end-of-trip facilities of around 450 bike storage spaces and 1,200 lockers encouraging active transport, Jackson explains.

Active transport options will also get a big boost when the Light Rail opens. The Hon Patricia Forsythe, executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, says the Circular Quay precinct will become a “unique transport meeting place of ferries, buses, heavy rail and light rail”.

The 12-kilometre route will feature 19 stops from Circular Quay to Randwick and will “play a key role in the activation at street level, which is an essential ingredient of any thriving precinct,” Forsythe says.

“Unprecedented public and private sector investment will transform Circular Quay into the most important precinct in Sydney.”

Join Tim Blythe, Patricia Forsythe, Luke Briscoe, Kimberley Jackson, together with Mirvac's general manager of commercial development, Simon Healy, and CBRE's national director of retail services, Suzette Lamont, at ‘The Transformation of Circular Quay’, as they unpack the opportunities for the precinct on Friday 26 October. Tickets are available online.