Friday night in Perth and this part of the city is jumping. Drinkers at the bars are spilling into the streets, there’s a queue of hopefuls outside one of the wine bars waiting for a table and the new restaurant at the refurbished hotel next door is packed.
The level of noise is deafening.
“Yes, it’s always like this now on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night,” said one of the crowd waiting to be served at the Print Bar, the historic Newspaper House, now reworked into one of its most fashionable drinking spots. “It’s great, isn’t it?”
While many of Australia’s other capital cities are only just stirring from their COVID-19 slumber, previously cocooned Perth looks almost back in full swing.
This hospitality and business hub, Brookfield Place, off St Georges Terrace near Elizabeth Quay, with its mix of 120,000 square metres of high-rise offices, retail, dining, drinking, arts and performance spaces, looks as if it’s never been away.
“It’s becoming one of Perth’s most popular precincts,” said John Lucas, general manager of the Parmelia Hilton Perth, which in February unveiled the results of a major $45 million transformation to include a direct laneway link to Brookfield Place. “It was a simple piece of infrastructure but it’s changed the whole dynamic.”
The whole precinct, as a result, has today become an example of what’s seen as the best of city place-making – and from the most ignominious of beginnings.
Once the home of the Perth Technical College, with stakes owned by disgraced entrepreneurs Laurie Connell and Alan Bond, the site was bought in 1988 by Kerry Packer and Warren Anderson for $270 million, and the one office tower built became mired in the controversy of the WA Inc Royal Commission. In 2003, Mr Packer resold the site to developers for a $200 million loss.
Four years later, BHP committed to leasing 60,000 square metres in Perth’s biggest office deal and construction started on its $500 million, 45-floor Brookfield Place — the second-tallest skyscraper in Western Australia. Another smaller 16-storey tower was completed in 2015, now leased by Multiplex, Westpac and Deloitte, with a walkway to Elizabeth Quay and the CBD.
The five heritage buildings on the site were restored and converted to other uses, and the revived Parmelia Hilton next door, with 32 new rooms and a restructure of the lobby completed over 10 months during the pandemic, has completed the puzzle. The owner of the hotel, Hawaiian Group, also owns three office buildings close by, and are huge fans of Brookfield Place.
“Over the last 10 years, this whole block has pretty much become the centre of Perth,” said Hawaiian general manager Richard Kilbane. “It’s got so much West Australian history from Alan Bond to Kerry Packer but, with the mining boom, it’s now taken on a life of its own.
“Roughly 20 per cent of the Perth office stock is now in this block, and the Hilton here is primarily a hotel for business travellers, so with the new walkway, you can now walk from the office to a bar, to a restaurant and to bed within minutes. The hotel was also 53 years old, so it needed new investment, and the city of Perth used to be a ‘dullsville’ but now with the newly refurbished hotel here, and the vibrancy and amenity of Brookfield Place, the city is really changing.”
The owners, Brookfield Properties, are also delighted with the acclaim the precinct is earning. State manager Alison Beamish says the company has worked hard to make sure there’s plenty going on year round, with a mix of predominantly free culture and events, from art installations to live music and the flagship Winter Lights Festival.
“Brookfield Place has built an unmatched reputation as an iconic place-making destination, providing tenants and visitors alike with a unique experience combining high-end retail shops, hidden bars and award-winning restaurants in a unique setting in the heart of the Perth CBD,” she said. “We are also thrilled by the addition of the new thoroughfare from the Parmelia Hilton.”
Onlookers also admire the new laneways around the precinct, and say it’s a laneway revival that first found its roots in Melbourne’s grand design to bring them back to life.
Eric Denholm, a Perth urban planner at Hatch RobertsDay, who says too many streets in the city are designed using standards better suited to major roads and highways, said: “We’re now seeing laneway revitalisation in Perth, and these are pleasant places to be.
“With buildings around them, they’re enclosed but do create the feeling that they’re outdoor rooms, so they’re very comfortable places to be, away from moving traffic.”
For the tenants, too, the place-making hit is paying dividends. Brendon Sim, the director of pub dining venue W Churchill and cocktail bar Bar Lafayette, said his businesses were not yet back to their six-days-a-week pre-COVID-19 opening, but they’re getting there.
“Brookfield Place is the hub of the CBD now,” he said. “It’s a really good precinct and a great locale, and the number of customers are really picking up now.”
Helen Newburn, the owner of fashion store 29lines, feels similarly.
“It’s coming back alive now,” she said. “There’s such a nice vibe about it. It’s a great destination and more and more people are finding out about it. There’s some beautiful shopping, lovely food and wine, and great office space. It’s got everything, and it’s becoming a bit of an icon.”
At the Parmelia Hilton, Perth’s new restaurant, Samuels on Mill, John Lucas is having to raise his voice to carry over the hubbub of diners.
“We have a lot of loyalty from West Australians as we’ve been here such a long time, and been used for weddings, birthdays, engagements and all sorts of special occasions,“ he said.
“But, now with state borders open, we’re hoping for a lot more interstate visitors to rediscover us and this special part of Perth. We’re a long way from Sydney and Melbourne, but I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised by the city these days.”
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