The ACT Government is looking for a quality development to complement the planned city cultural precinct on a small but prominent block of vacant land on the corner of Vernon Circle and Constitution Avenue.
The City Renewal Authority has released the 2743 sqm site (Block 40 Section 19 City) next to the ACT Legislative Assembly, Canberra Theatre Centre and the new Constitution Place development to the market through a two-stage expression of interest process.
CRA CEO Malcolm Snow said the site could support offices, a hotel and retail space, but the building would need to be of architectural excellence with uses that would be the right fit for the overarching idea of the cultural district.
“It’s a really critical site for a couple of reasons,” Mr Snow said.
“Not only because of its prominence on the corner of Constitution and Vernon, but it will be a development which we think can make an important contribution to our planning and urban design work on the concept for a city centre cultural district within which this site sits.”
Mr Snow said it was very important to achieve an integrated design solution, particularly around practical things such as service and delivery access on the laneway that separated this site from the existing Canberra Theatre.
It was also important that a number of services that currently cross the site could be relocated.
There is already a hotel in the nearby Constitution Place building, but Mr Snow said the government believed the demand was there to support another one.
“We think so, and Visit Canberra thinks so,” he said.
“The Chief Minister has been quite public in his desire to attract more hotel operators to Canberra, and as you might appreciate, whenever Parliament is sitting and we’ve got this confluence of conventions and Parliament, it is often difficult to find hotel accommodation in the city.”
Mr Snow said there was strong interest from various operators nationally and even internationally looking to Canberra as a potential location for a new hotel operation.
“Certainly the hotel adjoining this site, I understand, has a very high occupancy because of its location. That same appeal would apply to this site as well,” he said.
Any development on the site would be part of a suite of projects reshaping the city centre, including the Canberra Theatre Centre redevelopment, the planned offices for the courts centre car park and the One City Hill offices being built on Vernon Circle, not to mention light rail.
The CRA is also selling the prominent block of land on London Circuit opposite the QT Canberra hotel for office, hotel, retail and residential development.
Mr Snow said there was also the large surface car park on the eastern side of Commonwealth Avenue which had been earmarked for a future special building that could be a new national convention centre.
“There is a lot of development still to come around Vernon Circle, and I think from a city planning perspective realising the Griffins’ vision for City Hill to be the focus of an area around it which has a combination of both public and private buildings, I think is certainly potentially very exciting,” he said.
Mr Snow said the concept of an urban circuit would add to the gravitas of the city centre where the CRA was looking for greater density but not necessarily height, given the planning limits on that.
“So we’re not going to have skyscrapers, we’re going to have more density and out of that, greater vitality in the city centre as these sites are developed,” he said.
Mr Snow said the two-stage EOI process would allow the government to assess proposals and shortlist the best from which an eventual purchaser would emerge.
He said the initial market inquiries pointed to the land attracting some very competitive bids.
“Recent sales history not only for Territory land but also for other sites in the city centre gives us a fair degree of confidence that we will get a very attractive price,” he said.
JLL is marketing the site. Expressions of interest close on 24 August 2023.