31 March 2023

Garema Place makeover comes as site sale keeps five-star hotel plans alive

| Ian Bushnell
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Artist's impression of Garema Place, bustling with people

New look: Garema Place looking north-west towards the future five-star hotel site on the left. Images: CRA

Plans for a greener, safer and more hospitable Garema Place have been released in a bid to transform the struggling city space into a destination dining and retail precinct.

The City Renewal Authority has put the plans out for public feedback, coinciding with news that Geocon has unloaded the DA-approved site for a luxury five-star hotel at 70 Garema Place.

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The development giant put the site on the market last year and it sold earlier this month for $30 million in a sale brokered by JLL’s Nik Sasic.

The buyer is Tony Pan’s TP Dynamics, which is behind several major projects in Canberra, including the Yowani redevelopment in Lyneham and the Dickson shops.

The company declined to comment on the Garema Place sale, but it is believed the intention is to follow through with the hotel development.

CRA acting CEO Craig Gillman welcomed the sale, saying the plans for Garema Place would be a perfect fit for the new hotel.

“It’s great news, because that site has been unsatisfactory for three to four years,” he said.

“We’re really glad that someone is finally going to take control of it and execute that DA.”

Artist's impression of a luxury hotel in a busy square

An artist’s impression of the proposed five-star hotel.

Mr Gillman said the CRA’s designs complemented the DA.

“They talk to each other perfectly,” he said. “We’ll meet the new owner and go through that, but there is no inconsistency and it is great timing that we’re going to embark on this renewal as they embark on theirs.”

The planned upgrade will even out the pavement to make it safer and more accessible, improve the seating and outdoor dining spaces, add more trees and gardens to cool the space in summer and let the sunshine through in winter, and provide better lighting.

Mr Gillman said the area needed to be decluttered, with the current outdoor dining patchy and blocking sight lines.

He said more tree varieties, mainly deciduous, would be added to the dominant plane trees in Garema Place.

The changes come as the much-maligned Canberra Centre opens itself out to the city, with more shop and restaurant frontages.

An artist's impression of people gathering around outdoor seating in Garema Place

A re-imagined Garema Place looking south-west from Bunda Street.

The Canberra Centre has been accused of sucking the life out of Civic, but Mr Gillman said the giant mall was changing and how it and the city interacted with each other was a real opportunity.

There is no budget yet for the proposed works or a set timeframe, but the CRA was not “mucking about”, with Mr Gillman saying it was not a five or 10-year horizon.

Work is expected to start once there is a final design.

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For businesses, it would unavoidably mean some disruption, but the CRA would look to quiet periods and winter to do the work.

“We’re conscious of how we stage the works to minimise those impacts,” Mr Gillman said.

To learn more and provide feedback, visit the YourSay Conversations website.

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Hasn’t Canberra just had several large building contractors go bankrupt ?

The new trees and planting either side of the merry go round looks great, but after leaving some meetings in that zone on late evenings it has felt darker, worse and more unsafe than it used to. So I’m not sure they’ve quite nailed the design for a city centre.

Well designed, properly hardscaped and nicely paved open space has worked better for me across many cities of the world. Some great big courtyards of Rome and London hardly have a tree, but they work great as a meeting place for the community.

HiddenDragon8:04 pm 02 Apr 23

“There is no budget yet for the proposed works or a set timeframe, but the CRA was not “mucking about”, with Mr Gillman saying it was not a five or 10-year horizon.”

Might be better for the CRA (missing a terminal letter?) to just offer virtual reality headsets to anyone who visits that area – and who is not a fan of sad grunge and tackiness.

Glad Geocon is out, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for upgrades to this unsightly useless unsafe space that could be so much better designed and used for entertainment that kept it lively, busy and well-monitored into the night. Whether it’s music, poetry, speakers, dance or outdoor shows, it could be a great space where all might gravitate with outdoor dining and coffee till late.

Anything’s better than the foul grub pit there at the moment

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