The proposed hotel at the National Arboretum is now being called an eco-lodge and wellness centre, and the ACT Government has gone to the market to find a developer to design, build and operate the envisaged luxury accommodation complex among the trees.
The eco-lodge would be located on Forest 69, a one-hectare clear site adjacent Dairy Farmers Hill with 360-degree views of the Lake Burley Griffin and the city, as well as the Brindabellas.
National Arboretum senior director Scott Saddler said early concepts show 20 cabins arranged in a horseshoe, immersed in a new forest, while the wellness centre for yoga, massage and spa baths would be built within the existing Forest 76 behind, a block of pinus radiata.
He said an area would need to be cleared to accommodate the wellness centre and 20 more cabins but this pine forest had reached the point where it needed to be thinned anyway.
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The whole facility would have capacity for about 100 guests.
The project requires the approval of the National Capital Authority, which requested the concept change to eco-lodge and guided the government on what would be an acceptable development.
Documents for the market sounding say the project is designed to be integrated within its forest setting and convey the environmental values of the Arboretum.
Facilities will include a main building with food and beverage offers, reception, meeting rooms and accommodation, and the 40-60 rooms may be a series of villas or pods.
It could take the form of a villa leisure/conference resort incorporating functions/conference facilities, a wellness centre/spa retreat and parking at a minimum.
The government is seeking a lease of at least 40 years.
Mr Saddler said accommodation had always been part of the original design and there was growing appetite for this kind of bespoke accommodation, saying there was not a comparable offering within Australia.
He said it would add to the city and the Arboretum’s attractions, and with the Arboretum and 94 of its 100 forests firmly established it was the perfect time to move to the next phase of the project.
The Arboretum concept had been met with a lot of negativity initially but the exploding visitor numbers had vindicated its establishment, with Mr Saddler saying they had just topped four million total visitors since 2013.
“We needed the people to fall in love with the Arboretum before we extended to the next phase,” Mr Saddler said.
“This will be immersed in its own forest, own landscaping, own turf and will add to the amenity and beautification of the National Arboretum.”
Proponents would be able to have input into the eco-lodge’s design but Mr Saddler did not expect the overall concept to change markedly. Early concept designs will be presented to the NCA on 9 December and it may be able to make a decision by the mid-2020.
But a project timeline depends on what interest, expected to be national and from overseas, comes back to the ACT Government.
How much it would cost to stay at the eco-lodge would be a matter for the operator.
A one-hour group industry briefing will be held onsite at the National Arboretum on 25 November.
The market sounding closes on 20 February 2020.
The Arboretum has recently opened a new trails network and is moving to install a permanent amphitheatre stage for regular concerts, which had also been part of the original plans.