Traditionally seen as something of a Sydney backwater 50 kilometres west of the CBD, the decidedly inauspicious city of Penrith has now set its sights on becoming a major commercial hub.
As the closest urban area to the new airport, and with a raft of multimillion-dollar projects in the pipeline, it’s now planning to persuade businesses from Parramatta, central Sydney and those planning to set up in the new aerotropolis to relocate.
“We’re hoping to get larger firms who want a presence in the western parkland city from, say, Macquarie Street and Parramatta,” Penrith City Council general manager Warwick Winn said.
“We’ve got the trainline, so we’re just 40 minutes from town, and half of our population currently commutes elsewhere for work and would like to work closer to home, saving on travel time and increasing productivity.
“You can buy a house here for the price of a letterbox in Sydney and our CBD offering is going to be more bespoke, a bit boutique. We’re setting good standards for our new A-grade office space, and we’re not building on every square metre of space which has happened in other places.”
The area on the Nepean River that is now Penrith was explored by European settlers just 18 months after the First Fleet arrived, but today is still a relatively small city with a population of about 220,000.
But the building of Sydney’s first 24/7 airport is likely to change all that, especially with the planned metro rail line connecting the Western Sydney International Airport with St Marys, on Penrith’s doorstep.
The council has also embarked on a major program of improvements to revitalise its city centre.
Its former council chambers are about to be transformed into 8000 square metres of new A-grade office space, with another 6000 square metres provided by new development Soper Place. A $12 million city park will be built nearby and there’ll be a $24 million upgrade of Regatta Park on the river.
Property development, investment and services firm Avenor, which has advised on, and helped with, big urban renewal projects across Australia, including Atlassian’s new tech centre precinct at Central station, is now working closely with the council.
Avenor executive director Peter Clemesha believes the airport will be a game-changer for Penrith.
“It definitely is a backwater now, but the vision is for Penrith to be a major CBD metropolis which could rival anywhere in any large CBD airport location,” he said. “The area of any airport out of a main city CBD has organically grown, like Singapore, Denver and Heathrow – and that’s a real opportunity for Penrith.
“The city has a lot of natural lifestyle attributes, being so close to the Blue Mountains and with the Penrith Lakes, it has affordable housing, it has land, it has a Westfield, the train lines, education and health facilities, and the government has put a lot of money into infrastructure in western Sydney. Nowhere else in Australia has the opportunity to grow in this way.”
The first new A-grade workplace on the site of the old 1950s council HQ at 131 Henry Street will be an eye-catching structure designed by architects Woods Bagot, the winners of a design excellence competition. Targeting a minimum of a five-star Green Star rating to help cool the city, it will provide flexible office, green, retail and public spaces, and create 430 jobs on completion.
“We see a lot of development being done in western Sydney as now about creating a sense of place, and amenity and culture,” Woods Bagot principal Jason Fraser said.
“With this building, we didn’t want it to look like a traditional commercial building that’s only creating commercial benefit, but we wanted to have, at its heart, public and community benefit and hope that it might be an exemplar for future development.”
Penrith mayor Karen McKeown said the design would contribute to the future urban character of the Penrith CBD.
“[It] will set the benchmark for future city developments and be the catalyst for the revitalisation of the Penrith CBD, alongside council’s investment in a new city park and transformation of Soper Place,” she said. “Penrith is well positioned to become a new commercial centre for growth and innovation.”
Soper Place, designed by Durbach Block Jaggers and with completion set for mid-2023, will be a new development of four-storey A-grade commercial premises and multi-deck car park, with a public rooftop garden, a living green facade and a multi-sports court.
The upgrade of Regatta Park on the river will include new playgrounds, foreshore pathways, overwater viewing platforms, a kiosk, junior cricket oval, carpark and green open spaces. The council is putting $9 million into that, with the NSW and federal governments each contributing $7.5 million.
At the same time, construction will start in 2022 on the 7000-square-metre new city park on the site of a current hotch-potch assortment of old retail and office buildings on the corner of Henry and Station streets. It will have themed gardens, water features, shaded areas and open space.
“That’s the jewel in the crown,” Mr Winn said. “It will be common space and part of what we’re trying to do to cool the city, while we’ll also see little bars, restaurants and cafes starting to come, to give the city more of a vibe.
“There’s no doubt that the airport is a real catalyst for growth in the city, but the council has aspirations and has been putting these into play for a long time to stimulate growth and sustainable development.”
Keep up with Commercial Real Estate news.
Keep up with Commercial Real Estate news.