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REVEALED: $250m retail, residential development planned for old Le Cornu site

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After a 30-year saga, North Adelaide’s notoriously vacant old Le Cornu site is set to be developed, with the Adelaide City Council this afternoon releasing long-awaited plans and signing a contract to build a $250 million retail, commercial and residential complex.

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Old Le Cornu site saga

The council this afternoon confirmed reports that Adelaide-based developer Commercial & General had been chosen to breathe new life into the empty site at 88 O’Connell Street, which was bought by the council for $34 million in December 2017 with the help of a $10 million State Government grant.

Commercial & General plans to start building a $250 million mixed-use development at the site in 2022, with construction expected to finish in 2025.

The development, to be called “Eighty-Eight O’Connell”, would include retail and commercial space, as well as residential apartments.

It would also include almost 400 off-street car parks over three basement levels and some public space.

The development is expected to attract tenants from the medical, technology and wellness sectors.

At its highest point, the development, which is yet to be approved by the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP), would reach 15-storeys, which is non-compliant with the development limit for North Adelaide of eight-storeys.

It is also above the council’s own “guiding principle” for the project, which was also set at eight-storeys.

However, Commercial & General executive chair Jamie McClurg said he was confident the development would be granted planning consent, as the building is set back from the street and it increases car parking and open spaces.

“It’s never guaranteed that a plan will be endorsed by the SCAP, but obviously we’ve got a great set of architects on the project (and) it’s not our first time of seeing projects of complexity through,” he said.

“We’re pretty confident that the plan that we’ve put is one that can be endorsed by SCAP.”

Verschoor said she was also confident with the 15-storey height, describing the project as an “amazing development for North Adelaide” that would “deliver in so many different ways”.

A media release announcing the project states the council would receive an undisclosed amount in commercial return, after purchasing the property from developer Con Makris for up to $14 million above independent valuations after years of the site remaining vacant.

Verschoor and McClurg said return on ratepayer money was confidential.

“There will be a recovery of some of that money that we’ve paid for that site and what we really want to do is invest in it being a catalyst site,” Verschoor said.

“There’s been a very intense process for us to get to this point and we’ve selected so that we can deliver back to the people of Adelaide and North Adelaide something that will be quite extraordinary.”

The development application process is set to begin in the first half of next year before Commercial & General opens a sales and marketing office on the site.

Verschoor said Commercial & General was selected following a three-stage expressions of interest process because of its “capacity and capability to deliver a project of this scale”.

A render of “Eighty-Eight O’Connell” at night. Image: Adelaide City Council

The developer is behind the recently-opened $345 million Calvary Adelaide Hospital on Angas Street, as well as the $1 billion redevelopment of the Football Park site in West Lakes.

Verschoor said the development would feature “exceptional architecture”, “vibrant public art” and sustainable building design.

“From the concepts released today we can see the development will include a stunning mix of residential, together with retail and commercial uses with new public open spaces for everyone to enjoy,” she said.

“I know the team at Commercial & General are committed to delivering a project that will revitalise the precinct while working closely with the local community during construction and beyond.”

The view of the “Eighty-Eight O’Connell” development from Tynte Street. Image: Adelaide City Council

The council estimated that 433 jobs would be created during the construction process and up to 500 ongoing roles would be created once the project is complete.

McClurg said he was a long-time North Adelaide resident and he felt “a sense of responsibility to deliver a project of significance on this landmark site”.

“It will take a high level of commitment, not only from us as the developer but also from the community whose support will be a critical factor in its ultimate success,” he said.

“We have applied a very deliberate philosophy to the concept design, understanding the importance of creating a development that will both complement the existing environment while also bringing new levels of vibrancy and excitement to the area.

“We are going to carry that same strategic and methodical approach through all stages of the development.”

The old Le Cornu site on O’Connell Street has remained vacant for over 30 years. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The council will hold an open information session for the public early next year to present the plans.

McClurg said he wanted to hear people’s opinions to refine the detail of the plans.

“Obviously, with the mass and scale we’re quite determined and we worked that out trying to balance the needs of commercial outcomes to make sure that the council has a great commercial outcome, to make sure the community has a great commercial outcome as well,” he said.

Deputy Lord Mayor and north ward councillor Mary Couros said it was “difficult” to keep the building’s height to below eight-storeys, as set out in the council’s guiding principles.

She said the building’s design would be sympathetic to North Adelaide’s character and would attract people to O’Connell Street.

“You’ve got a beautiful curved visual with a lot of greenery as you’re coming down O’Connell Street,” she said.

“The bulk of it (the building) is sitting in the centre, which won’t be very visual as you’re walking around the street.

“I don’t think it will appear as overbearing as what some people might think.”

The council signed an agreement with Commercial & General in November 2019, which included confidentiality clauses prohibiting the release of information to the public until both parties agreed to contractual arrangements.

In February, the council’s associate property director Tom McCready said the latest date the council could make the development plans public would be May 23, but the council intended to “wrap things up a lot earlier than that”.

Latest costings released to InDaily show the council has so far spent $728,0000 on progressing the development of the site and a further $396,000 on temporary activations, including car parking, public art installations and events, while the plot has remained vacant.

The site has remained vacant for over 30 years after furniture retailer Le Cornu sold the property in 1989 after 134 years and a string of subsequent development proposals failed to kick off.

It has since come to be regarded as one of the city’s worst eyesores.

Property mogul Con Makris last proposed developing a $200 million apartment, retail and hotel complex on the site in 2014, but that proposal – like several before it – fell through.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo last year called on the State Government to buy the Le Cornu site off the city council to speed up what he described as a lengthy development process.

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