3 April 2020

$80 million revamp for prime city office precinct

| Ian Bushnell
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The Finlay Crisp Centre

The Finlay Crisp Centre: an underutilised and disconnected public realm in need of renewal. Photo: Dexus.

The new owners of a prime CBD office complex on Constitution Avenue is preparing an $80 million overhaul of the buildings and surrounds that will also include ground-floor cafes, restaurants and convenience stores.

The 1988-built Finlay Crisp Centre on the corner of Constitution Avenue and London Circuit consists of three buildings – Customs House, Allara House and the Nara Centre – surrounding a little-used plaza.

It is currently home to the Commonwealth Home Affairs Department, and ACT Government chief minister and treasury directorates until their leases expire in July.

Home Affairs is moving to Canberra Airport, while the 500 ACT Government staff in Nara House will eventually be relocating to new offices being built nearby as part of the Snow Family’s $300 million Constitution Place development on London Circuit across the road.

Property investment group Dexus sold the centre last year for $62 million to Singapore firm SC Capital, which plans a major refurbishment and revamp of the plaza with Sydney-based Artifex Property Group.

A development application has been lodged to vary the three buildings’ leases so the ground floors can accommodate a range of retail uses, from cafes and restaurants to convenience outlets, such as a supermarket, to indoor recreation and cultural facilities.

Artifex director Mark Frinsdorf says the buildings are in need of renewal and the project would be the largest adaptive reuse in Canberra, involving new floors, end-of-trip facilities and sustainability features.

But the real change would be in the inhospitable ground floors and the public realm, which should be seen in the context of the Constitution Place development and the precinct’s connections to the rest of the city.

“Because of the major development across the road, we’ve been given a fair bit of incentive from the City Renewal Authority and others to make sure that we can make a positive change,” Mr Frinsdorf says.

Location map

The site occupies an entire block. Image: Purdon Planning.

That includes opening up the revitalised ground floors to the plaza, which has the potential to be a high-quality meeting place and has been the subject of major place-making planning over the past six months.

Mr Frinsdorf says a pedestrian link is planned to connect with buildings on Allara Street, as well as links to the arts and cultural precinct across the road.

“That will be the key to our success if we do it properly,” he says.

Artifex is still looking at making a start in July/August depending on the coronavirus situation, but Mr Frinsdorf says the Canberra market is strong.

”Coming out of this no one knows what the new world looks like but there’s substantial tenant inquiry in Canberra that we think still needs to be satisfied,” he says.

”We’re committed, coming out of this. People need to work, they still need jobs. A project such as this is significant from that perspective.”

Mr Frinsdorf says the whole precinct is part of a generational change coming to the city.

”A lot of people are sceptical until they see these infrastructure projects and then when they’re completed you can see the benefits of them,” he says.

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