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Docklands’ skipper ready to set sail

02 Jul 2009

Docklands’ skipper ready  to set sail Image

After a decade at the helm and at the half-way point of the project, VicUrban’s Docklands general manager Michael Hynes is proudly passing the baton to others to complete the vision.

He is moving within VicUrban to head up a newly-created division dealing with economic centres and regions.

Mr Hynes has been on board almost from the beginning, being originally seconded to the project as an engineer to work on the Docklands stadium in 1998.

He was working in Indonesia when the Kennett Government first proposed the massive redevelopment of Melbourne’s derelict waterfront.

“There were a lot of things changing at that time,” Mr Hynes said.  “Federation Square was on the list.  CityLink was being talked about and Docklands was part of the development of Melbourne as a city that was going somewhere as opposed to the rust belt it had become.”

“There was nothing down here,” he said.  “There were a number of railway sheds, railway lines everywhere and the temporary casino car park was still in place.”

So how does he rate Docklands at the half-way point?

“I often get criticised for saying that Docklands is a fantastic success.  But I mean that unashamedly,” he said.

“When Docklands started in 1996 and the first bids were being presented, it was forecast to be a $2 billion development and was talked about as being residential property with a bit of commercial.  At that time there were a lot of developers who did not want to go near Docklands because they didn’t believe it would ever happen.  But all of the ‘naysayers’ of that time have been proven wrong.  The Docklands has happened and it has happened in a much bigger way than was originally anticipated.”

“The developers that we have in place are the best developers in the country.  The commercial tenants that have been secured and brought to the area are some of the biggest blue-chip names in Australia.”

“The CBD has been successfully extended in terms of a business address.  The mix of uses is fantastic with predominantly residential and commercial, but there are other things.  There is a stadium, there are studios, there is education, there is retail, there are entertainment uses and activities. And there is a wonderfully engaged community that is building and evolving,” he said.

And what about the future? 

“Docklands is a success but we won’t stop there or rest on our laurels and we’ve got a big plan for the next decade for Docklands,” Mr Hynes said.  “It’s an evolution in thinking.  It’s not a U-turn or a 90 degree turn.  It’s a refined focus on the character definition of different precincts in the area.”

The way Docklands was planned and developed as separate precincts has been criticised by some in the past.  So how does Mr Hynes respond to this?

“It’s always easy to sit here and say it could have been done in a different way.  And it could have been.  But it would have required a different government, a different state really, and different economy at the time,” he said.

“The way it was set up was in response to the economic and political circumstances of the day, which was a Liberal Government which was about regenerating the city and wasn’t spending money on too many projects.”

“An alternative model would have been for government to build all the infrastructure and sell the blocks off one by one.  That would have required $300 million upfront from government and the government of the day wasn’t prepared to invest.  Could they have done it differently? Absolutely they could have.  Would it have developed as quickly? I would say not.  Would it have developed without the gaps?  Yes it would have.”

“But developing in the late 90s, the only market that was working then was residential.  Was residential the right use to have adjacent to the city?  I’d say no.  So then you would have waited until the commercial market took off in 2002.  So you would have lost five years of development.”

So how will it turn out?

“We haven’t got the perfect crystal ball.  Remember that cities evolve and physical buildings don’t define the city.  We’ll be concentrating on the building and filling in the gaps and so forth, but we’ll be also be concentrating on the finer-grain activities – the uses, the community activity, how people interact with the place,” Mr Hynes said.

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