Own a large land block or building but need to wait for a while before launching a sales campaign? Planning on developing a site but having to delay work for all the planning decisions to be made and permissions to come through?
One of Australia’s top developers of both commercial and residential property is putting out the message that the space can be put to excellent use in the interim.
Following Toga’s own success opening up a vacant hotel in Sydney to homeless young people while awaiting approvals to build a new apartment complex there, it’s now creating an app to match the owners, and developers, of sites across the country with social enterprises and not-for-profits.
“Sometimes vacant property can be used for something very valuable and worthwhile,” said Toga managing director Allan Vidor. “Even if it’s only for a short time, it’s still better than nothing.
“We’ve started work on the app and have spoken to a number of property bodies and the government has also expressed an interest in getting involved. It means that it’ll be easier for people to make contact with social enterprises and not-for-profits to make good use of their sites.”
The app, as yet unnamed, should be ready within the next six months.
Inspired by housing pop-up
The scheme to promote short-term use of sites for charitable purposes is a result of Toga’s partnership with My Foundations Youth Housing. Together, they created Australia’s first housing pop-up, where a 42-room serviced apartment block in Kensington was transformed into the Addison Project, providing affordable and emergency accommodation for young people.
It started out as a six-month arrangement – while awaiting the drawing up of plans, consultation, negotiation and development approvals – and has now been going for two and a half years.
Other organisations within the not-for-profit sector have been thrilled with the experiment, and are hopeful that other property developers and owners will now follow Toga’s example.
Food rescue organisation OzHarvest, collecting over 180 tonnes of food each week left over from commercial outlets and delivering it to more than 1300 charities across the country, has also set up Australia’s first pop-up rescued food supermarket – thought also to be the world’s first free supermarket – at the Addison site.
Based on a “take what you need, give if you can” philosophy, it’s proved extremely popular, with more than 300 customers a day.
“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Toga, and they would constantly ask us what more they could do to help,” said OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn.
“So when this hotel came up, there was the most beautiful coming together of minds and this wonderful community initiative has been the result.
“It’s the first free supermarket in Australia and, I would hazard a guess, the world, and it shows that you can achieve anything with enough will. It’s great now that Toga is encouraging other developers and owners to do similar things; empty buildings and sites are such an absolute waste of fabulous resources, especially when we have 105,000 people suffering homelessness in Australia.”
Now looking for a similar site in Adelaide, Ms Kahn said she hopes many others will follow in Toga’s footsteps.
Another of the site’s tenants is Orange Sky Australia, providing a regular laundry and shower service to people in need with their fleet of distinctive orange vans. They use the site as a parking place for their local vehicles and a place to empty and refill their water tanks.
“It’s the hub for our Sydney operation and volunteers,” said Lucas Patchett, one of the founders of the charity, and chairperson. “The Addison Project has showed us how cool it was that developer decided not to leave a site dormant while he planned its development.”
For Toga, whose developments include Harbourfront Balmain, Bondi Boheme, the Darwin Waterfront Precinct, the Adelaide Treasury building, the Jones Bay Wharf rejuvenation and the Crown Street Women’s Hospital redevelopment, it’s been a great exercise in corporate social responsibility, and one that’s excited many of their employees.
Mr Vidor hopes the government will encourage such ventures in the future too with sweeteners like concessions on land tax and council fees.
When the Anzac Parade project eventually finishes, with the redevelopment going ahead in an estimated 12 months to 18 months’ time, creating 100 to 150 apartments, he says he hopes there’ll be other opportunities to repeat the exercise.
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