Some hotels on the notorious red light strip of Sydney’s Kings Cross were well-known for renting out rooms by the hour.
But, in a further sign of the rapid gentrification of the area, there are now plans for a new $7.5 million luxury boutique hotel on the once famous “golden mile”.
It’s at the site of the old branch of the Commonwealth Bank in the middle of Darlinghurst Road, well-known for its art deco tower feature rising above it and which until recently operated as The Bank Hotel bar and nightclub.
The proposal is for a 38-room hotel, with a bar and restaurant on the ground floor, operating 24 hours.
Four more levels would be added to the two-storey building, to bring it to a similar height as the Kings Cross Library on the same street. The plans are now open for public comment before going back to the City of Sydney for a decision.
Brent Marvin, director of MD+A Architects who has drawn up the plans for the building’s owners Asteri Holdings Ltd in Five Dock, says the idea is to extend and upgrade the current building.
“We have a heritage architect on board and we’ll be taking it back to its original features, proportions and perspective as it’s been bastardised over the years, so the building will be vastly improved,” he said.
“There’ll be a full restoration back to a beautiful art deco building which will be a valuable part of the urban streetscape.
“The big art deco fake tower above, which is just an architectural feature, will be retained but while now it’s completely empty, without even any floors in it, it will be integrated into the building.”
The building was constructed in 1940 in the art deco/moderne style as the Kings Cross branch of the Commonwealth Bank, and still has a brass night-safe outside embedded into one of the columns. It backs on to Kellett Way.
A number of alterations and additions have taken place over the years and it was bought by Asteri in 2013 for $4.55 million.
Since then, the 2014 lockout laws hit Kings Cross hard and the changing demographic of the area, plus the COVID-19 pandemic, have decimated the area’s nightlife. The building is currently vacant.
A statement from the City of Sydney council said the proposal was consistent with the Kings Cross character, as providing entertainment and accommodation and “supports the liveliness and vitality of Darlinghurst Road” and contributes to the area’s “vibrant and eccentric identity”. It recommends the proposal be accepted.
Locals are mostly enthusiastic about the scheme. Carrington Brigham, executive chairman of the Potts Point Partnership Kings Cross & City Edge, said he thought it could be a good addition to Kings Cross.
“I think as long as it reflects the heritage of the art deco architecture, I’m in support of it,” he said. “I think that building is OK to be redeveloped to provide more space. It’s good that private business owners and property developers are looking at ways to revitalise their assets.
“They understand that nightclubs won’t be coming back, and it’s important they respect the goodwill of the community. But I don’t know what the demand would be like for a boutique hotel, with so many hotels already in the area.”
Kings Cross property agent Vicki Laing, of Laing Real Estate, welcomed the proposal. “It’s great!” she said. “It’s much better to clean all that area of Darlinghurst Road up and put in more amenity. I think it’s terrific and will be good for the area. It can only be for the best.”
But not everyone is so keen. Andrew Woodhouse, president of the Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage & Residents’ Society, said it would be an over-development of the site.
“With rooms as tiny as 10 square metres and no enforceable maximum limit on the length of stays, it will encourage itinerants,” he said. “It exceeds the height controls and looms over the current site’s glorious landmark art deco tower. If you can’t appreciate a landmark it ceases to be one.
“It is dressed in dark steel grey metal cladding and will look like a stealth bomber. The proposed ground floor use with an external bar is passe and will add to noise, on-street fights, and other anti-social impacts.”
But Mr Marvin said the proposed hotel would be part of the gentrification of the area into “Surry Hills-style” cool. He’d hope the hotel would be to Sydney what the boutique Hotel Lindrum, in Flinders Street, is to Melbourne.
“Kings Cross had a gritty red light reputation, and a certain glamour for those coming in from outside suburbs, but the lockout laws and the changing social mix has changed its character,” he said. “But hotels before COVID were running at 90 per cent occupancy and there’s a real move towards more boutique hotels.
“A 24-hour operation would mean more people coming and going and improve the security, and help revitalise the area.”
Keep up with Commercial Real Estate news.
Keep up with Commercial Real Estate news.