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Go-ahead for Riverlee’s $450 million Northbank

August 10, 2018

Riverlee's hotel and apartment project on the north bank of the Yarra in the Melbourne CBD. Photo: A Griffiths Lensaloft

The revitalisation of a historic goods shed beside the Yarra River in the Melbourne CBD will be the centrepiece of a $450 million hotel and apartment project which has won planning approval.

The development of the Northbank wharf site, controlled by private developer Riverlee, forms a crucial link between the Docklands regeneration on one side of Wurundjeri Way and on the other, the last wedge of commercial space along the Yarra River.

To be known as Seafarers Place, the project has approval for a 5-star hotel with 280 rooms, 150 apartments and a 1000-seat function centre which will occupy part of the old Goods Shed No. 5.

A 3500 square metre public park will be created through the development along with work on the historic wharf and restoration of the site’s heritage-listed crane.

The project’s architecture has been designed by Fender Katsalidis while Oculus is responsible for landscape design.

Riverlee’s founder is Malaysian-Australian architect Clement Lee who, through his family-owned development and investment ventures, has been a key player along that stretch of the riverbank.

Son David Lee, Riverlee’s development director, said discussions were progressing with a 5-star operator – yet to be identified – for the new hotel.

‘Generational asset’

“It’s a new brand for Melbourne. It’s quite a bit different from the brands you’ve seen. It’s not quite so traditional and it will really be a game changer,” Mr Lee told The Australian Financial Review, speaking from New York.

Riverlee had originally pursued a commercial office tower design for the site, a parcel of state-owned land it acquired three years ago for $28.5 million.

But the private developer swung toward the hotel project to create a “generational asset” for the family, Mr Lee said. The restoration of the Goods Shed and its repurposing into a premium waterfront event space would help generate traffic for the hotel.

“We love mixed-use developments. We feel this is the right mix. We’re not building a gigantic residential complex. It’s 150 apartments, they are quite large, they are owner-occupied. We don’t really sell to the investor market.”

The Northbank wharf section is the last stretch of real estate in the precinct. Riverlee has been busy nearby and still holds a 2,000 square metre parcel near the World Trade Centre.

A year ago Riverlee with its co-investors Abacus and KKR sold the World Trade Centre for $267.5 million to a private investor.

Two years ago in the same riparian strip, Clement Lee’s Asset1 and its joint owner Eureka Funds Management sold the old convention centre site to Chinese developers for $97 million.

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