When Australian motorcycle legend Wayne Gardner bought an old 27,000-square-metre industrial site in the northern suburbs of his hometown Wollongong 11 years ago, it crossed his mind – just for a moment – that it would be a great location for a racetrack.
“It’s so close to where all the bike riders love to go through on those routes through the Royal National Park, Stanwell Tops, Bulli and the Macquarie Pass, that I thought it would be ideal,” Gardner said. “But I also knew the council would never have that.”
Instead, the 1987 500cc motorcycle world champion, now 61, decided to take it uncharacteristically slowly, and bide his time to see what best to do with it.
Then he noticed the shortage of industrial land for smaller-sized warehouses and businesses, and applied to the council to use his land for that.
His application to develop the Bellambi Commercial Centre complex in Wollongong, 68 kilometres south of central Sydney, was approved last year and now, with construction of the 142-square-metre warehouses about to start, those in stage one of the development are up for sale.
“I felt there was a real need for light industry and while I’d wanted 100 warehouses on the site … the council said I could only have 87,” said Gardner, who now divides his time between Monaco, Sydney and his first love, Wollongong – the inspiration for his nickname, the Wollongong Whiz.
“That was a huge coincidence, as that was the year [’87] I won the title, the number I raced under and the number my son Remy races under. It was kind of spooky, but I think it’s also a good sign. There’s something pretty special about it popping up.”
Gardner attended a turning-the-sod ceremony last Friday, January 31 with selling agent Travis Machan, associate director of commercial sales at MMJ Real Estate.
Mr Machan feels it’s right to be so optimistic.
“In the north of Wollongong, property is very hard to come by as the further you go, the closer the mountains are to the water,” he said. “This particular site is probably the last parcel of large landholding that exists in the northern suburbs.
“With most of the land owned by BlueScope, BHP and the ports, there’s not much supply available and we’re seeing prices for industrial land increasing.”
Demand is also rising as Sydney companies continue to relocate to Wollongong, with research by consultants Fifth Quadrant finding that the city offers savings of up to 33 per cent compared with operating in Sydney with lower wages, reliable telecommunication systems and a range of service organisations.
In January 2019, the Acting NSW Valuer-General Michael Parker reported that over the previous 12 months industrial land values overall in the Illawarra region had increased by 14.3 per cent, with Wollongong’s prices rising by 9.6 per cent.
Colliers International managing director Wollongong Simon Kersten believes there are game-changers on the horizon for the local market. One is the proposed completion of the inland rail link from Wollongong to south-west Sydney.
“At the moment, most of our freight is carried in trucks as there’s only the coastal commuter rail line,” Mr Kersten said. “But that rail link would be freight only and could link to the airport as well and would drastically reduce the time and bring us much closer to Sydney.
“And once the airport opens at Badgerys Creek, that will be significantly closer to us than anyone else …”
The first stage of the development of the Bellambi site, previously occupied by old warehouses, storage sheds and industrial machinery, sees 18 units up for sale, each 142 square metres over two levels, and priced from $475,000 plus GST.
Stage 2 sales will begin as soon as the first stage is completed in about October 2020 and the infrastructure, such as driveways and roads, around the site is finished.
“The warehouses are being built in modular form so you can build bigger blocks by grouping them together, or downsize later by putting the walls between them back up,” said Gardner. “Each one comes with its own office space, too.
“I’m always back here every year for the grand prix, with my 1987 victory starting the running at Phillip Island in 1989, and I still work with the Victorian government on that. So I’ll still be able to see the building on this progress.”
Keep up with Commercial Real Estate news.
Keep up with Commercial Real Estate news.