Field of Dreams: Walker Readies Australia’s Next CBD

“If you build it, they will come.”

The famous line whispered to Kevin Costner’s character in the 1980s sports drama Field of Dreams has extra impetus in the coastal hinterland of southern Queensland where a two-decade-old vision is quickly turning into reality.

Rather than erecting a baseball field on a corn farm, plans are rolling ahead to turn an ageing golf course into a futuristic metropolis in the heart of the Sunshine Coast’s Maroochydore.

The new greenfield CBD is being spearheaded by SunCentral, established by the Sunshine Coast Regional Council in early 2015 to deliver 150,000sq m of high-grade office space, 70,000sq m of retail and dining, hundreds of hotel rooms and thousands of new apartments, as well as 18ha of parklands and waterways.

It is being built on the former site of the Horton Park Golf Club, which was bought by the council for $42 million the same year. It was identified by the state government as a priority development area in 2005.

In the ensuing years, the council has been completing civil works on the 53ha site, including underground waste and digital infrastructure facilities, laying the foundations for a tech-centric, cleaner, greener and dynamic new economic hub.

Several projects have since come out of the ground, including the CBD’s first commercial building by local developer Evans Long, appropriately known as Foundation Place; as well as a two-tower, 150-unit residential complex delivered by Brisbane’s Habitat Development Group, and a 180-guest-room Holiday Inn.

Work is winding up on the Sunshine Coast City Hall—a 10-storey building to be home to around 600 council employees—and advancing at A1, a Cottee Parker-designed boutique office building, also being developed by Evans Long.

Looking ahead, Habitat Development Group is also readying plans for another 158-apartment project over 15 levels, and a $100-million eight-storey Maroochydore Private Hospital is also in the works.  

Habitat Development Group's The Corso Residences
▲ Habitat Development Group’s The Corso Residences (top centre), Evans Long’s A1 development (bottom left) and Foundation Place (bottom right).

While progress has clearly been made, SunCentral has revised its approach, enlisting Walker Corporation to streamline and accelerate the CBD’s delivery.

SunCentral’s newly appointed chief executive Amanda Yeates, who replaced John Knaggs in April after seven years in the role, told The Urban Developer the agreement with a private-sector developer, signed in late 2020, had supercharged the precinct’s delivery.

It will enable Walker Corporation to invest approximately $2.5 billion into the emerging city centre over the next 15 to 20 years.

“Prior to having Walker Corporation on as the development partner here in the Maroochydore CBD, we were going with a slightly different model, where SunCentral and the council were working together, almost on individual lot development,” Yeates says.

“There have been some great outcomes that have been achieved through that time, but the council’s intention was never to be a developer.

“In the stage that John was leading the project, SunCentral was making sure that in the lead-up to onboarding a development partner we had de-risked the project enough to attract one of Australia’s leading property groups.”

The decision to build quickly at scale with a single developer has proved a shrewd one, with the region now fast becoming more than just a holiday destination.

The current office market vacancy rate on the Sunshine Coast is less than 3 per cent, a significant decrease from 22 per cent prior to the pandemic. During the past two years, the coast has led the flight to the regions, attracting the highest rate of demand for its size of any Australian office market.

▲ SunCentral, now headed up by Amanda Yeates, is wholly owned by the council and the company has an independent board of directors.

The Sunshine Coast’s population was tipped to grow from 346,000 to 500,000 by 2036 but has outpaced those forecasts with annual net interstate migration for the Sunshine State at its highest level in almost 20 years.

The council has also estimated up to 2 million more passengers will be flying into the region by 2040 now that the Sunshine Coast airport expansion and additional runways are complete.

“When we moved here as a family in 2013, there was no sense in my mind that my children would be able to stay on the coast and be educated and find quality and meaningful work,” Yeates says.

“There just wasn’t that sort of economic activity that was happening here on the coast.

“I think this vision is to show people it is entirely possible now to grow up, be educated on the coast and find real and meaningful work contributing to a whole range of industries and economic activity that didn’t exist five years ago.

“It’s not too often that you get to be involved in building a greenfield CBD, and in this particular case the largest greenfield CBD in the country, and we really need to think about this as more than just a collection of commercial buildings.

“Now that we’ve got Walker Corporation on board, we’ve got a development plan in place and we’re all working to that same song sheet—the key to the success of this city is that it’s going to be shaped by the people who take up residency and call the new CBD home.

“This partnership between council, SunCentral and Walker Corporation has designed this identifiable city heart to maximise community and commerce.”

Maroochydore city centre
▲ Lang Walker’s Walker Corporation will be the developer for the balance of land under construction in the Maroochydore city centre for 15,000 new jobs.

For Walker Corporation, the project follows the delivery of its $2.7-billion city-style precinct Parramatta Square—a project that has attempted to cement the western city as Sydney’s second CBD.

Similarly scaled, the high-density Parramatta project offers 290,000sq m of premium-grade office and retail space across ​​six buildings, 6000sq m of public space, a refurbished town hall and a state-of-the-art library. The 3ha precinct will accommodate up to 23,500 workers.

Walker Corporation development director Peter Saba says that, unlike Parramatta, the Sunshine Coast’s added attraction was its lifestyle and proximity to Brisbane.

“The Sunshine Coast markets are a little bit different to established economic centres like Sydney and Melbourne,” Saba says.

“In an emerging office market like Maroochydore, you’ve got to start building.

“We are right at the beginning of this journey—but even that being said, we have at least a dozen proposals out there at the moment which is exciting to see enquiries roll in and interest start to grow.”

It is understood that a number of ASX-listed companies, as well as government, banking, insurance and technology sector tenants, have begun to size up a potential Sunshine Coast base—looking to take advantage of the CBD’s cable landing station.

The 550km undersea fibre optic cable connects the Sunshine Coast to an existing 9600km cable providing the fastest data connectivity to Asia from the east coast of Australia. 

50 First Avenue
▲ Walker Corporation’s A-grade office building at 50 First Avenue will target 5 Star Greenstar and 5 Star NABERS Energy ratings.

The high-speed, high-quality fibre optic network will be built into the new city centre’s underground infrastructure which will also enable free Smart City Wi-Fi throughout the public realm—streets, parks and plazas.

Strategically, data centre provider NextDC has sounded out its intentions to build its first regional data centre in the new CBD as it aims to bolster cloud and connectivity support for regional businesses.

“The cable landing station is an amazing piece of infrastructure,” Saba says.

“There’s a degree of connectivity in the Maroochydore city centre that is unique only to the Sunshine Coast and not repeatable elsewhere.

“Have we landed a big commercial tenant? No, not yet.

“But, once our 15-storey office building at 50 First Avenue starts coming out of the ground I think that will ignite interest in the new CBD and really give businesses looking at secondary locations or regional markets a clear understanding of what this 20-year masterplan will ultimately be.”

Walker Corporation’s development includes 1000sq m floor plates designed to lure in big business. It will also feature an enclosed rooftop level, a grand lobby, and a ground-floor cafe.

Sunshine Coast mayor Mark Jamieson says the council had been consistently fielding enquiries for office space in the emerging city centre since its inception and that conversations were only likely to increase as further commercial buildings were delivered.

“In some senses, the pandemic has provided not only significant challenges but also some new opportunities,” Jamieson says.

“Enquiry for office space in Maroochydore has significantly increased since the beginning of the pandemic due to the shift to regional locations [as well as] council actively encouraging businesses to consider relocating or expanding their operations to the Sunshine Coast.”

In 2016, Jamieson led a delegation to California’s hi-tech capital, Silicon Valley, meeting executives from Microsoft, CISCO and other “major players’’ who were impressed by the coast’s plans.

Another significant change and welcome addition to the CBD blueprint has been the inclusion of the Sunshine Coast in the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Brisbane was awarded the Games in mid-2021 and has since provided an opportunity for the Sunshine Coast council to realise the development of its own Olympic city at Maroochydore.

Jamison says the city centre will now make room for a new athletes village—providing 1370 beds for athletes and officials and a range of ancillary and support facilities—as well as providing a central area for entertainment and for people to gather during the Games.

Sunshine Coast venues have also been earmarked for soccer, basketball, mountain biking, road cycling, race walking, kiteboarding and keelboat sailing.

“While the Games proposal will evolve across the next decade, there are many opportunities for the Sunshine Coast to benefit in terms of state and federal government investment in transport infrastructure,” he says.

“This is at the forefront of the collective advocacy efforts of council and Walker Corporation.”

The Sunshine Coast is now well on its way to becoming one of Australia’s fastest-developing economies, growing each year at rates well above national averages, and is expected to expand from $17 billion to $33 billion by 2033.

Its population is also set to overtake the NSW Central Coast to become Australia’s ninth-largest urban area and is projected to grow larger than the current populations of Canberra and Newcastle.

The former golf course is on its way to becoming, as some have phrased it “Australia’s own silicon valley” and could potentially field an all-star team of local and global players and hitters.

It seems very much that the Sunshine Coast has, like Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, heeded the call … and they’re coming.

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