Building a greenfield city centre the smart way

How often do you have the opportunity to be an early mover in what will be the first central business district new build in Australia? SunCentral Maroochydore CEO John Knaggs posed the question to Jonathan Jackson when we caught up to talk about the Sunshine Coast’s extraordinary makeover.

When you think about the Sunshine Coast, the term ‘business district’ does not immediately spring to mind. Most head north for the sun, beach and sea change this near perfect climate offers.

However, there is a change of another kind in the works; a change to the tune of $300 million that will transform the Sunshine Coast and in particular Maroochydore into an international business hub that could be the envy of all Australia.

The construction of a new Maroochydore CBD will create the only greenfield city heart in Australia and the development is expected to create thousands of new jobs and provide a $5.9 billion boost to the Queensland economy.

“We expect in excess of 15,000 jobs post construction and that number will grow further in the decades to come,” says SunCentral CEO John Knaggs.

The benefits have wide-reaching effects.

“There’s probably in excess of $4 billion in construction that will occur over the next 15 years that will aid the regional economy,” Knaggs says. “It will provide opportunities in increased employment and value beyond tourism, retail and construction.”

Mr Knaggs says the construction of a new $2 billion teaching hospital and new airport runway will internationalise the Sunshine Coast, broadening the region’s economy and deepening business investment including investment in technology and health.

Ultimately these projects will enable Maroochydore to step up as the capital of a more mature, yet still dynamic lifestyle region.

THE NEED FOR A GREENFIELD CBD IN THE SEQ CORRIDOR

As the Sunshine Coast’s population continued to multiply, the Maroochydore City Centre needed to address a number of infrastructure challenges.

Transport, business opportunity, housing and connectivity became vital components in the mooted rebuild. It was important, however, to maintain the region’s outdoor ethos whilst looking towards creating an international city.

About 40 per cent of the city centre will be dedicated to waterways, parks and plazas, whilst the 53ha CBD will comprise commercial and mixed-use premises, residential apartments, retail and dining precincts, a premium hotel, convention and entertainment facilities and proposed light rail.

When the project was announced, Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said the city centre development would forge a new identity for Maroochydore by creating the economic and civic heart of a region that stretches from Caloundra to Coolum and west to the hinterland.

“This is Australia’s only greenfield CBD within an existing urban area which  provides  us with the opportunity to  build from scratch a city centre that is able to meet the needs of people both now and in the future,” Cr Jamieson said at the sod  turning in 2016.

Earthworks began in 2016, with the first commercial buildings to be completed by early 2020.

“It is ambitious, but each month we are meeting our construction goals and jobs prospects on site are being realised,” Mr Knaggs says. “More particularly, SunCentral offers the capacity to build a new contemporary city centre from scratch on a greenfield site that is right at the centre of Maroochydore.”

BY SCALE THIS WILL BE THE LARGEST CBD NORTH OF BRISBANE

“The Sunshine Coast is creating its own identity and taking a trajectory that is of its own making.

“It will boost tourism to the area even further, however we are building a contemporary, smart city which significantly positions the Sunshine Coast in a way that hasn’t been seen before.”

Essentially, the urban centre will feature retail, entertainment and cultural facilities that aid all of the urban centres on the Sunshine Coast. Add to that a premium hotel site, in addition to business hotels in the new city centre and the opening of the new airport runway in 2020 that will connect the Sunshine Coast to the Asia Pacific rim and this becomes a vital cog in Australia’s business and investment future.

“This project is all about people beyond this region seeing the Sunshine Coast and Maroochydore as not just a place to roll out the beach towel, but as an incredible business expansion opportunity in one of the fastest growing regions – South East Queensland.”

CREATING A SMART CITY

Throughout Australia, urban sprawl has created many infrastructure challenges.

Add to that the rising costs of working in capital cities and the impact of a long commute to work as inner city housing affordability becomes a distant memory for many people, and there is a need for change.

The Sunshine Coast Regional Council recognised this need and the idea for the Maroochydore City Centre was put forward.

It was the perfect opportunity to build from the ground up: to create fresh opportunities beyond traditional markets for business expansion and investment. It was also an opportunity to integrate back of house technology that could have a major national impact. “Applying our smart city framework – which includes digital solutions for the management of street lighting, car parking,  water, power and signage that is detected by smartphones and other technologies and where  rubbish bins are emptied via automated underground vacuum pipes – means the Maroochydore City Centre will become a nation-leading destination for innovative business,” said Mayor Jamieson at the time.

That vision hasn’t changed. “We have begun to embed the latest technology and thinking that goes into a smart city – recognising the opportunities for citizens, business and R&D,” Mr Knaggs says.

“We have had an Entrepreneur- in-Residence from day one, building smart city technology and engaging nationally to aid and build the Sunshine Coast as a city recognised for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Most importantly for Mr Knaggs, a smart city is not just about technology. It is about people and he is looking to attract the sorts of skillsets and outlook that attract business opportunities, partnership and collaboration.

“It would be erroneous to limit the growth of a smart city to technology. It is important, but the most significant function is to create a pool of talent that a project like this attracts and then build on that.”

Whilst building a new city is a council initiative, SunCentral is an independent company tasked with driving delivery. Mr Knaggs has worked with council previously and understands the machinations, but with an independent licence he is driving the growth of this new CBD hard.

With the support of council and the State Government, which he says is a fantastic example of the way informed and well-led local government can set strategy, Mr Knaggs has already had several wins.

John Holland is poised to strike a $200 million deal for five super lots. Several leading hotel brands have expressed interest in developing and operating business hotels in the new CBD.

Meanwhile the Sunshine Coast has been named on the world’s top 21 smartest communities.

Importantly, the State Labor government has pledged to invest $15 million into the Sunshine Coast’s international broadband submarine cable project, which would connect the Maroochydore City Centre directly with global communications systems in Asia and North America.

The Sunshine Coast would be the only landing point for an international sub-sea cable outside Sydney on the Eastern seaboard.

Council called for Expressions of Interest in the cable project on 2 December and will begin assessing submissions from mid-January.

As reported by the Sunshine Coast Daily, council’s recent feasibility study found the cable and associated facilities would create 864 full-time jobs a year on the Sunshine Coast and provide a potential economic boost of $927 million to Queensland.

“Digital connectivity is an important component of diversifying our state’s economy and improved access will ensure we remain an attractive investment destination and are competitive in global markets,” Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said.

The Maroochydore City Centre project is a game-changing build for not just the Sunshine Coast, but also the broader Australian economy. The dedicated and talented team behind it is working hard to ensure this smart city becomes a hub for national and international business, whilst maintaining its charm.

The next 18 months will be crucial, but the trajectory is positive as SunCentral opens up business investment and opportunities that puts it on the radar of all of South East Asia and takes it one step closer to the US.

This is probably the largest urban regeneration in Queensland, with pre-approved development rights from the ground up.

Indeed, as Mr Knaggs says, this is a rare opportunity.



Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.