Sydney towers mix it up with hotels, co-working and offices

An artist’s impression of the Citadines Walker North Sydney development.
An artist’s impression of the Citadines Walker North Sydney development.

Finding a new building that combines luxury hotel suites, a co-working lounge and even the offices of a multinational used to be hard in Australia, but a series of projects, including a complex that will become North Sydney’s tallest tower, are challenging perceptions.

The latest towers on the drawing board sport concierge and valet services, as well as rooftop bars and high-end restaurants, with swimming pools and fashion brands also part of the mix.

Paul Reidy, a partner at architects fitzpatrick + partners, which designed the property, says hotels are bringing life to areas that were once dormitories, and the skinny 48-storey building in North Sydney would help draw visitors.

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“In a world of co-working, the blending of these uses is really kind of symbiotic,” he says.

Reidy says buildings are becoming more complex as private companies like project developer Billbergia ignore the strictures that constrain most real estate investment trusts.

Developers are now chasing the highest and best uses for their sites and “straight up and down anything is a thing of the past”, he says. “We are definitely finding a lot of projects have a degree more complexity than they used to,” Reidy says.

This breakdown of traditional building classes is also being embraced by investors. CapitaLand’s lodging business The Ascott has just invested $S192m ($202.2m) to buy the hotel component of the North Sydney building.

The Ascott Serviced Residence Global Fund, backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, will purchase the hotel component and open it as the Citadines Walker North Sydney in 2021.

It will be the area’s tallest tower but is just the latest of a series that have a led a rethink of new buildings. They are also a step up from earlier projects like Australia on Collins in Melbourne, which includes a Novotel, with the precinct being overhauled into a modern retail and hospitality complex. A new generation now wants to work, stay and even live in same building.

Singapore’s SC Capital is developing a slim, tall hotel and office tower in Sydney’s Bligh Street and more projects are in the works.

Woods Bagot principal Ian Lomas, who designed the project, says Australian hotels have tended not to engage with their cities but this could change.

“They’re not places where a local would go,” Lomas says. “But in a European or North American context they’re almost like a living room for the city.”

Lomas says new spaces allow for a blend of working and accommodation. He says there is “almost a tradition” of doing business in a hotel in London and New York. “Maybe there is a little bit of that coming here,” he adds.

But there has been a drop in projects seeking to combine luxury residences and hotels, with a $1 billion scheme overlooking Hyde Park abandoned and sold to an office landlord last month.

The combined projects that are working are benefiting from relatively high room rates, despite a recent softening, and an office element can stabilise returns long-term. However, some developers, such as Billbergia, have pre-sold the hotel component to get their projects started.

Elsewhere, in Melbourne, Cbus Property’s mixed-use development at 447 Collins Street includes a W Hotel, offices and luxury apartments perched in the top levels.

The new buildings have thrown down the gauntlet to traditional developers who focused on single areas. But some are catching on, with Dexus completing 80 Collins St in Melbourne, which includes a hotel.

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