Packer’s betting on Barangaroo

Sydney faces competing development pressures, writes Hannah Bruce

The redevelopment of Barangaroo has been mired in controversy since 2003 when the NSW State Government announced that the stevedoring wharves at East Darling Harbour would be transformed into a new 22 hectare metropolitan precinct. Nine years on, Australia’s biggest urban development is well underway and has caught the eye of James Packer.

The billionaire’s casino group, Crown, proposes to construct a billion dollar, 350-room hotel, world-class spa, casino and entertainment complex at Barangaroo Central, between the Headland Park and the commercial hub of Bangaroo South. The Barangaroo Delivery Authority says that Bangaroo Central is reserved as a communal area with low-rise residential, commercial and civic buildings and open-air spaces for festivals, entertainment, arts, culture and educational activities.

Packer wants his world-class casino and hotel complex built north of the designated commercial precinct in order to take advantage of unbroken views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour. The premier, Barry O’Farrell, has expressed overwhelming support for plans saying: “I think it’s an exciting proposal which could add extra life to Barangaroo, give Sydney another world-class hotel, generate jobs and boost tourism.”

While there is no doubt the project will potentially reap millions of dollars, something O’Farrell desperately needs if he is to live up to his election promise of reinvigorating the state’s economy, it is difficult to quantify the social costs of such big-ticket projects as the community loses grassy slopes to a gambling high-rise. The casino will attempt to compete with mega-casinos in Singapore and Macau by attracting a larger stake of Asian high-rollers. Renowned US landscape architect, Peter Walker, who has been retained to design Barangaroo’s headland park, revealed that his plans for Barangaroo Central included open playing fields for office workers and a ‘Domain-style’ amphitheatre. Former Prime Minister and former chairman of the Barangaroo Design Excellence Review Panel, Paul Keating, told Packer: “the public amenity of the lands is inviolate.”

Piers Akerman, columnist for The Daily Telegraph argues: “Australia needs tourists, Sydney needs tourists, casino proprietor James Packer needs high-roller tourists.”

Do we really need another casino only a short distance from the freshly (and expensively) renovated, Star? In the past couple of weeks Crown has increased its stake in Echo Entertainment, operators of The Star, to 10 per cent and has sought permission from regulators to increase its stake further. The Star holds an exclusive license as the only casino in NSW until 2019 under the current agreement with the New South Wales Casino Control Authority. If Crown can gain control of Echo, the proposed Barangaroo casino could operate under an extended license of The Star.

Hannah Bruce is an Honi Soit editor.

Filed under: