Convert empty offices to apartments to save cities: Harry Triguboff

Harry Triguboff inhis office at Meriton

Harry Triguboff says they have unusable real estate in the best position. Picture: John Appleyard

City office towers left vacant by the pandemic should be converted into apartment blocks says Australia’s largest unit developer, the billionaire Harry Triguboff.

The Meriton founder said the northern part of Sydney was hampered by empty offices and struggling shops, adding that there was a real need to start rebuilding Australian cities following the pandemic.

“The value of our city has dropped. We have unusable real estate in the best position. Something has to be done quickly,” said the veteran developer who builds around 1600 apartments a year.

As a result of the pandemic and the hit tourism has taken Mr Triguboff is planning to convert some of the 20 or so serviced apartment complexes he owns on the east coast into residential apartments, saying the hospitality industry is now too volatile in terms of room rates and occupancies because of the pandemic.

In a wide-ranging interview Australia’s largest apartment builder said Meriton was adapting to the post- Covid world – as he warned councils must do because it was clear there would be less staff returning to work in cities.

“Because we have devalued the city by having empty offices we must act quickly if we are to use existing offices for apartments,” Mr Triguboff said.

“We can’t wait for three years for (council) approvals, they must be given within three months.

“We must forget overshadowing, we must just have new rules which will allow the old offices and serviced apartments to be used. The urgency is to rebuild the city,” he said.

Mr Triguboff added that he was pleased that his serviced apartments were larger than normal ones which would make it easier to convert some of them into apartments. Unlike the American model of serviced apartments which are small, his are much larger.

“If a person lives in a three-bedroom home when on holidays he should not stay in a studio.

“If you have a bigger serviced apartment then people such as sports groups and office workers can share, if the family goes they can keep an eye on the kids. I never agreed to do small ones,” he said, adding that during the pandemic the government had leased seven of his serviced apartment blocks or 1270 apartments for quarantine purposes.

“Residential apartment incomes are always steady, if you get the virus no one comes to a hotel, (but) residential apartments are a steady income and occupancy.”

But he said councils had no clue how to convert offices into apartments: “They don’t know how to do it. With the offices it is beyond them.”

Mr Triguboff said people were working from home and somehow businesses continue.

“More and more want to work from home, and I think they will want to stay at home because they don’t have to travel and owners don’t have to pay money for offices.

“I am afraid there will be a big amount of people who will not come back into the offices.”

“I have to see how they (the councils) will allow me to turn offices into apartments.”

Meanwhile, Mr Triguboff said sales were continuing apace at his Ocean Tower development in Surfers Paradise with more than 65 per cent of apartments in the tower now sold.

“It is a tall building so we are selling it in stages, we have sold more than 80 per cent in the first stage and in the second higher stage we have sold more than 50 per cent of the apartments.

“We bought another block just a few doors up on the oceanfront, and we have started to pull it down, it is a similar size but not as tall as Ocean.”