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Crown seeks extension for One Queensbridge tower permit

Fri, Feb 8, 12:49pm by Staff Writer

Crown Resorts has requested an extension on the planning permit for its planned A$1.75 billion Southbank development.

In March 2017, Planning Minister Richard Wynne gave the plan the green light, with a permit issued to Crown and developer Schiavello to begin construction within two years.

The One Queensbridge tower would be 323 metres tall and become the tallest building in Melbourne, eclipsing the Eureka Tower by 26 metres.

Among the buildings earmarked for demolition are an historic pub, which have sat dormant since the announcement, with rumours swirling that neither Crown nor Schiavello are prepared to risk the enormous construction costs.

The plan was originally approved just as Melbourne’s apartment market was cooling after an explosive few years.

The tower was expected to feature 708 apartments and a 388-room hotel, according to The Age.

Crown’s current permit to build the tower expires on March 2, 2019.

Tower approved in 2017 without notice

The tower was approved by Mr Wynne in 2017 without public notice, despite strong opposition from Melbourne City Council.

In the lead-up to Premier Daniel Andrews’ successful 2014 state election campaign, Crown Casino founder Lloyd Williams was caught on camera telling the then opposition leader that Mr Packer would do everything he could for Labor.

“You should probably know that I am the executor of the Packer estate, and James is going to kick every goal he can for you,” Mr Williams said.

Crown is one of corporate Australia’s biggest political donors.

Disclosures released last week by the Australian Electoral Commission for the 2017-18 financial year reveal that it gave the Labor and Liberal Parties A$180.638.

In Victoria, it handed Labor A$35,000 and the Liberal Party A$30,000 that year.

A spokeswoman for Mr Wynne confirmed Crown had recently made the request to extend Mr Wynne’s planning approval for two years.

“We have received the request for an extension of time and will now assess this request through the normal process and keep the community informed of the outcomes,” she said.

Former chair of finance at Melbourne City Council Stephen Mayne said it was a disgrace Crown’s tower was ever approved.

Mr Mayne is now an anti-gambling campaigner and said: “it was a dark day for planning in Victoria and it should now not be renewed in any way, shape or form – it was worse than anything ‘Mr Skyscraper’ Matthew Guy did [as planning minister], because it was a corporate sweetheart deal negotiated personally between James Packer and Daniel Andrews.”

Mr Wynne alleges that Mr Wynne had personally not liked the tower plan, but approved it out of Cabinet solidarity.

“Dick Wynne always hated this, and the Premier should now let Dick Wynne cancel it,” he said.

Crown share price plummeted in 2018

Executives of Crown Resorts are expected to update shareholders on the One Queensbridge project when they hand down the company’s half-year financial results later this month.

Crown’s chief financial officer Ken Barton said finding a partner willing to share the development risk on the residential portion of the project was challenging.

He said Crown had been “working for some time” to get financing and find partners who met its objective of minimising exposure to “significant residential risks”.

Shareholders will be expecting better news than they received six months ago, where a downturn in VP and premium business at Mr Packers casinos saw the magnate lose more than A$800 million.

Crown Resorts’ share price has plummeted almost 20 per cent since mid-August 2018 as the lucrative Chinese high-roller gamblers are turning their backs on casinos in the midst of a slowing economy and trade war with the United States.

Mr Packer’s 46 per cent stake in Crown Resorts, held by Consolidated Press Holdings is now valued at A$3.7 billion after the price drop.

In August, Crown Resorts share prices were near $14.50 per share. They are worth $11.67 per share today.

Crown is still rebuilding its business after a number of arrests of staff in China in 2016, with high rollers treading carefully at Australian casinos.

Although VIP turnover was up 13 per cent on the previous quarter in results released in November 1, it was well below the 28 per cent rise that was expected in the first half of the year.

Crown has seen just a one per cent or less rise in domestic operations, compared to its rival Star Entertainment group that has a 6.7 per cent rise during the same time frame.

Crown has made an investment into Sydney and there is an expected increase in market share for Crown as it aims to generate A$18 billion in VIP turnover and A$122 million in table revenues following the new resorts completion in 2021.

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