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$100m Brisbane project to go ahead despite flood risk

A controversial project on the 3.43-hectare flood-prone Howard Smith Wharves site on the Brisbane River is set to go ahead after the Brisbane City Council approved it.

The $100 million plan for the site, which is next to Story Bridge, features a 164-room five-star Art Series hotel, a 1500-square-metre public exhibition space, restaurants, cafes and parkland. More than 80 percent of the site will be used as public or green space, and heritage-listed structures on the site will be renovated.

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The planned development of the site, which stretches back to 2009, has been a source of controversy due to the risk of flooding. During Brisbane’s January 2011 floods, a large part of the site flooded, and in 2000, one of the wharf buildings collapsed and fell into the Brisbane River.

Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman put forward a proposal for the site in 2009 when he was Brisbane City Council’s lord mayor, and it generated significant backlash due to both building height and the potential for the site to flood. Following the January 2011 floods, the state government thwarted plans to develop the site.

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Plans to transform the Howard Smith Wharves Site were resurrected early in 2013. In response to concerns about the flood-prone nature of the site, Brisbane City Council lord mayor Graham Quirk told The Brisbane Times, “It is important to note that ground floor of the hotel and retail development has been designed to be above the flood level of a one in 100-year flood event.”

However, the new development will feature underground parking for 350 vehicles across two levels. Brisbane has suffered two one in 100-year flood events within the last half a century – in January 2011 and January 1974.

An aerial view of the Howard Smith Wharves site during the January 2011 floods.

An aerial view of the Howard Smith Wharves site during the January 2011 floods.

Image: Courtesy of nearmap

The wharves were constructed in the 1930s at the same time as the Story Bridge. Storage sheds on the site and air raid shelters built during World War II are heritage-listed, and have been incorporated into the redevelopment.

Woods Bagot are designing the new buildings, including the exhibition centre, and architecture practice Projects of Imagination are redesigning the heritage-listed buildings on site including the brewery, restaurants and function centre. Urbis has been engaged to complete the landscape architecture elements of the project, and SJB Architects are designing the boutique Art Series hotel.

In a recent statement announcing the approval of the project, Quirk said the project would help to regenerate the central, historic site.

“New designs show the proposed hotel’s façade is designed to blend into the cliff face with natural tones and textures to keep the iconic Story Bridge as the main focus,” he said.

“A 1500-square-metre exhibition space will also host events such as cultural and food festivals, making this an exciting new destination for visitors and residents alike.”

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According to the site plans, the hotel will be located under Story Bridge and the public open spaces will include an amphitheatre, a pavilion and pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. The public spaces in the project will have a strong focus on “urban agriculture,” incorporating a microbrewery, productive gardens and bee-keeping facilities.

The development of the site as a whole is being undertaken by Howard Smith Wharves consortium, and the development of the hotel will be undertaken by Asian Pacific Group, the organization behind the boutique Art Series hotels in Melbourne, Bendigo and Adelaide.

Work on the site is set to begin mid-2016.

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