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Revealed: The tortured tale of the Festival Plaza

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The Adelaide Festival Centre has played a key role in killing off Walker Corporation’s proposal for redeveloping the Festival Plaza to include an office building,  InDaily has learned.

Multiple separate sources have confirmed that the centre’s opposition to various versions of the redevelopment plan has been central to a long-running stalemate within the State Government about the plaza’s future.

Walker’s plan has been progressively scaled down over the past 12 months, from a full revamp including a new car park and an office tower, to simply a car park.

The internal debate among stakeholders explains the long silence from the State Government on Walker’s proposal for the site and why the bid has been scaled down to a shadow of its former ambitions.

Walker Corporation refused to comment on this story, citing a confidentiality agreement with the State Government.

The centre says it is waiting to see a final proposal from Walker before it can make a final decision on whether it will support the redevelopment.

InDaily understands that a final proposal has been prepared for cabinet. This proposal includes a car park redevelopment and not much else.

Our investigations have revealed that internal Government debate over the site has centred on the Festival Centre’s desire – expressed publicly – to gain a much-needed revenue boost from the plaza redevelopment.

Walker was given the exclusive rights to develop options for the plaza by the Government in December 2012. It first presented a proposal to the Festival Centre board in March 2013, which was immediately opposed – at least informally – by the centre.

Walker’s original plans included a large office tower located north of the plaza – which  centre management believed would compromise their vision to turn the plaza into a public space.

The centre is also understood to be unhappy with Walker Corporation’s unwillingness to implement elements of the centre’s 2011 masterplan for the site in its redevelopment.

Festival Centre head Douglas Gautier is a member of the Executive Steering Committee that the government set up to oversee Walker’s bid, known formally as the AFC Car Park Request for Proposals.

Sources say Gautier has opposed Walker Corporation’s proposals within the committee, which last met in October last year. The committee provided a recommendation to Cabinet on the proposal, but the Festival Centre says it does not know where the current plans sit.

Acting chair of the Festival Centre Trust Bill Spurr told InDaily yesterday that Walker Corp was now dealing with the government direct and the board was unaware of the latest plans.

“My understanding is that that committee hasn’t met for a long time,” he said. “I don’t know the details for that committee, not involved at all. But the trust itself has not seen any detailed plans of the Walker Corporation. I understand that the Walker Corporation is just dealing direct with government at the moment.”

Spurr said the trust was keen to work with all proponents.

“We don’t want to get into politics here. We just want a solution to the car park and plaza, and also the redevelopment of the Festival Centre. That’s our one aim in all of this and we’re just waiting to see what firstly the Walker Corp come out with, what the Government come out with and what the Opposition come out with. We will work with anyone and that’s been a clear direction of the trust right through.”

Asked if Gautier had been lobbying against Walker’s plan, a spokesperson for the Festival Centre said that “the AFC is continually lobbying for the advancement of AFC interests.  The AFC Board and Management have long argued that maintaining an income source from the car park is an essential part of the AFC business model and that the plaza needs to be developed as a public space for all South Australians.

“The AFC has also argued that the plaza should have a leisure, arts and entertainment focus.”

InDaily understands the Government is now considering a proposal from Walker for a car park redevelopment only.

The process is being managed by the Chief Executive of the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, Rod Hook.

Festival Centre management is understood to favour a model in which ownership of the plaza and the car park beneath it are both given to the centre and a redevelopment is undertaken jointly by the centre and the Adelaide Casino.

This model has won public support from Opposition Leader Stephen Marshall, who was convinced of its merits by the Festival Centre Trust. In response to the Marshall plan, Premier Jay Weatherill ruled out an office block on the plaza.

At the moment the Festival Centre operates the car park but does not formally own the title. The car park generates around $900,000 in revenue for the centre every year.

Adelaide Casino sees a need for more car parking space near their venue once their expansion is complete.

The Casino is understood to be very concerned about the price Walker Corporation is proposing to charge them in its redeveloped car park (Casino management declined to confirm or deny this). It is understood this led to the development of the coalition between the Casino and the Festival Centre – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, as one source put it.

Skycity is likely to rent out a large section of an expanded car park, giving the Festival Centre a guaranteed revenue stream.

– additional reporting by David Washington

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