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City council candidate warns against Riverbank hotel development

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A book publisher turned Adelaide City Council election candidate says a proposal to build a 27-storey hotel on the banks of the River Torrens would threaten the park lands’ public appeal – and is pushing an alternative nearby site.

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Area councillor candidate Stephanie Johnston, a former head of Wakefield Press who is a current member of both the Adelaide Park Lands Authority and the preservation association, said the proposed Riverbank hotel would be better located over the State Government-controlled rail yards adjacent to the Morphett Street bridge.

Talk of building a six-star hotel with an “Aboriginal theme” on the banks of the River Torrens was floated as early as 2008 by then Liberal opposition leader Martin Hamilton-Smith.

Hamilton-Smith again raised the idea in 2014, when he announced he would pursue the hotel development if the Liberals won government.

Last year Hamilton-Smith – then Investment Minister under the Labor Government – revealed details and architectural drawings from local firm Enzo Caroscio of the proposed building – estimated to cost between $200 and $300 million. Under Hamilton-Smith’s plans, the building would boast an Outback-themed design and would house commercial offices, penthouse suits and an Indigenous art gallery in its basement.

Hamilton-Smith suggested the hotel be built on a 10,000 allotment of land owned by the State Government and the Adelaide City Council, to the west of the Morphett Street Bridge.

The Adelaide City Council’s current investment prospectus lists the “Riverbank Hotel” as a proposed major development.

But Johnston said it would be “disingenuous” to build a hotel on the proposed site, as the park lands are currently protected under National Heritage listing.

“I think it would be very difficult now that it (the park lands) are on the national heritage site to put a hotel there,” she said.

“That’s what makes our park lands special – it’s that they were the first public park in the world and that’s a very important part of their value.

“Some people just look at it as free land for development and I think we’ve got to stop looking at it like that and we have to look at more creative solutions.”

Johnston said the city council and State Government could look to Melbourne’s Federation Square and build the hotel over the State Government-owned rail yards adjacent to the Morphett Street bridge.

“There is an area already there that has already been taken out of park lands and that’s where railway lines are so why not build up and over the railway lines and leave the actual Riverbank as a beautiful aspect in front of the hotel.”

Johnston is one of the candidates Lord Mayor Martin Haese has endorsed in the leadup to the local government elections in October.

She said she had raised her concerns about the proposed hotel in an email to Haese, but she said she had not yet had a chance to discuss the idea with him in person.

Johnston said she would also “strongly push” for world heritage listing of the park lands if she was elected to council.

She said while world heritage listing wouldn’t add to the heritage protection status of the park lands, it would be a worthwhile branding opportunity for the city.

“It (world heritage listing) is a hugely recognised stamp of legitimacy – it’s like three Michelin stars and puts you on the global circuit.

“It puts your city on the list of places with UNESCO recognition and that’s an enormous boost for tourism, property prices. It’s a real economic boost to a place.”

In May, the Adelaide Park Lands Authority moved to form a subcommittee charged with exploring world heritage listing of the park lands.

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