13 October 2023

More rooms for Garema Place hotel as site's new owner rings changes to move ahead with development

| Ian Bushnell
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artist's impression of hotel exterior

An artist’s impression of the proposed city hotel from before the amended DA. It is still 11 storeys. Images: Fender Katsalidis Architects.

A new amended development application for the long-planned luxury Garema Place hotel in the city signals the site’s new owners want to get on with building the 11-storey project.

Geocon originally proposed the hotel development in 2018 and went through four iterations from Fender Katsalidis Architecture before offloading the DA-approved site in March for $30 million to another Canberra developer, Tony Pan’s TP Dynamics, which has just completed and sold the Dickson Village retail and build-to-rent project for $157.5 million.

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The approved proposal on the 1503-square-metre site at 70 Bunda Street and 47 Garema Place was to have three basement levels of parking and 3071 square metres of premium office space.

Features included a rooftop pool, bar and restaurant, restaurants and cafes on the ground floor, including a rebuilt Gus’s cafe, a ballroom, and a high-end commercial office and meeting space.

It began as a 16-storey, 233-room hotel but was scaled back amid concerns about overshadowing.

The amended plans retain most of the proposal but update the facade, reduce the upper built form to further mitigate overshadowing, remove the offices to increase the number of hotel rooms to 243, expand the size of the basement and parking spaces, and revise the restaurant and wellness offerings on the upper floors.

Other changes have resulted from advice from a potential hotel operator and tenants of the ground floor food and beverage spaces.

Purdon Planning prepared the amended DA and believes these will be the final changes to the plans.

“The proponent has taken every effort to ensure the proposed design will be buildable and will not require any further substantial amendments in order to be built,” it said.

“This includes close considerations of mechanical plant requirements, vehicular access requirements, structural requirements, accessibility requirements and more.

“In the changes proposed, we consider the development will respond as well as, or better than, the previously approved development.”

The glass-bottomed rooftop pool and the gym have been moved to the seventh floor, replacing the restaurant, while an “elaborate, dynamic internal courtyard” will provide a more pleasant amenity for guests.

A skylight void has been introduced all the way down to the ballroom on the mezzanine floor above ground level.

artist's impression of hotel exterior

Another view of the proposed hotel supplied with the approved DA.

The food and beverage tenancies on Garema Place will now be more spacious and interesting with double height and diverse shapes and sizes.

The car park, which will now be open to the public, will extend over five basement levels and offer 132 spaces instead of only 40, and the proposed car stacker system has been removed.

The ramp access has also been redesigned, with the driveway from Bunda Street now two-way.

The amended proposal will include 48 bicycle spaces along with end-of-trip facilities such as showers and lockers.

Back-of-house areas and services have also been improved on advice from the potential hotel operator.

The new traffic assessment says the development will generate 135 vehicle trips in the morning peak time and 138 in the afternoon, which the current road network should be able to cope with.

It says that most users are expected to be from outside Canberra, heading to and from the airport, Barton Highway or Federal Highway.

Overall traffic volumes as a result of the development are expected to be low, and not be enough to worsen the performance of the surrounding road network.

The western section of Bunda Street will receive the greater quantity of vehicles during both peaks, but even along this busiest section, a maximum of 83 vehicles are expected to be on the road in both directions.

“Given that the nearby roads of Northbourne Avenue and Cooyong Street are already operating under congested conditions within both peak periods, the addition of less than 90 vehicles per hour to any of the nearby intersections is not expected to significantly worsen conditions in the area,” the assessment said.

One of the many conditions attached to the approval required the developer to install an artwork or mural telling the story of Gus’s cafe and reinstalling a plaque.

Other conditions included changes to the plans for the upper floors to reduce overshadowing, allowances for tree growth, bicycle parking on the ground floor, more street parking, and a noise management plan.

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Geocon bought the Garema Centre building at 70 Bunda Street (Block 5, Section 47) in September 2017 for $13.35 million. It then acquired Block 1, Section 47 and consolidated the two.

The amended DA is open for comment until 1 November.

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Shan Weereratne9:18 pm 15 Oct 23

Bunda street is currently dominated just by the Canberra Centre with all buildings on the opposite side, totally dilapidated. This building will give Civic that badly needed boost. Hopefully more of this nature will follow.

We need something similar but on a much smaller scale near the Kingston railway station, where the Canberra Milk buildings are being sold. This would cater for those arriving at night from Sydney, as well as those planning to leave on that very early train in the mornings. Many Canberrans have to do this for medical appointments given the limited access to much needed specialists here. It would also make for a much more enjoyable trip for those from interstate to arrive at great accommodation near the waterfront and old Kingston.

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