THE Disruptors blinded by big piles of Do$h … have demolished all our BiCentennial Architecture … they don’t share Our Values Nor value Our Heritage
Sydney stuck with the bad decisions of those blinded by big piles of dosh
Columnist, author, architecture critic and essayist
August 3, 2019
When a competition to nickname Barangaroo casino flared briefly on Twitter, suggestions included The Toilet Brush, The Vibrator, The Speculum …
and anything meaning total and utter sellout – Barry’s Bottle of Grange, say, or just Barrangawrong.
Then, inevitably, came the phalloids; Barrangaprong, Barrangawang, Barrangaschlong … and my personal pick for what will soon be Sydney tallest building, Packer’s Pecker. Or, not to overdignify the thing, Packer’s Peckerdillo.
A similar competition for the sad-looking hole-in-the-ground that was once Philip Cox’s pretty Moore Park stadium might produce metaphors of a more feminine persuasion, but similar doubts pertain regarding the proponent’s capacity to get it up.
Of course, nicknames are childish, amusing maybe, but also glib. As someone noted, Barangaroo’s Crown casino is designed by fine architects (WilkinsonEyre) and should at least prove more elegant than its clunky Lord-Rogers-of-Hammersmith-designed companions, though this is not a high bar. But is formal elegance the point, actually?
The $730 million rebuild of Sydney’s Allianz stadium hangs in the balance as NSW government severs ties with developer.
Certainly the Toaster, our most famously nicknamed building to date, is now much loved. Then again, the Toaster has won acceptance by opening private land to public benefit.
Packer’s Crown Casino does the opposite, sucking private benefit out of public land.
And here’s the thing. Even if we resolve the gnarly processes behind the private theft of public lands and misuse of public money, even if by some miracle we shed our dangerous regard for thuggery, our cultural addiction to criminals and gamblers, we’ll still be stuck with their physical ramifications for decades to come.
Say our (ceaseless parliamentary enquiries) a commission of inquiry does show whether Packer’s 75-storey pecker was artificially lubricated onto our foreshore.
Say it is determined whether anything vaguely resembling proper process was followed at Moore Park. We’ll still have a huge half-mast erection indelibly soiled by organised crime and an embarrassing hole-in-the-ground slap bang in our most sensitive public parts.
This sounds like a recipe for marriage failure and perhaps it is, though not in the way you think. Packer’s half-built Crown casino at Barangaroo is Sydney’s most barefaced land-grab.
Berejiklian’s knock-down-and-Allianz stadium its most blatant financial waste.
Both are monuments to the dizzy incompetence of a government hopelessly infatuated with Big Money.
We don’t see it.
On the contrary, governments need only be sufficiently mean-spirited for us to take their very nastiness as a sign of good financial management. If they cut enough welfare, flog enough public assets, chop enough trees and destroy enough public space we assume they’re ruthlessly efficient.
Practical and unswerving. Tough. In fact, any government that reaps $40 billion from asset sales and still can’t get a few kilometres of light rail up and running must be seriously questionable in the competence department.
But first the crimes, then the motives.
The common elements here are the mass misappropriation of public land, the developer Lendlease and former premier Barry O’Farrell.
Barangaroo developer Lendlease, not content with the immensity of its public-to-private heist to date, joined Crown Resorts in legal action against the government last year to protect the view from its $40,000-a-night gambling hotel. Until this week it was also building the new Allianz stadium, for a cool $729 million. Now its just the former-demolition team for a project in squalid disarray.
As to O’Farrell, six years ago he personally announced the granting of NSW’s second casino licence to Packer’s Crown Resorts for a “VIP-restricted gaming facility” on public land at Barangaroo promising vast “economic benefits” to NSW.
Now, in his ostensibly post-political life, he sits on the ultra-privileged Sydney Cricket Ground Trust behind the stadium redevelopment, iffy as that now looks.
That licence O’Farrell wangled for Crown was a far, far bigger gift than it seemed. Why? Because although, in theory, two further hurdles existed – probity approval from the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority and planning approval from the Independent Planning Commission – neither of these caused the project even to break stride.
First, Crown galloped through its probity check despite evidence now emerging of a long-standing “special” relationship with the federal government fast-tracking visas for big gamblers from China and possible organised crime links under investigation by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. That was one hurdle very low-to-the-ground.
*Then, when the supposedly “independent” planning commission was to adjudicate the eighth amendment to Barangaroo’s concept plan (almost doubling its original floor space and siting a fat-cats-only casino on public land) it found, despite overwhelming public and professional opposition, that its hands were effectively tied.
O’Farrell’s licence approval, being umbilically linked to location, had effectively approved Packer’s Pecker in advance. From the instant Packer lodged his “unsolicited proposal”, its passage was virtually assured.
*Now there’s another, secretive “unsolicited bid” for a Moore Park mega-hotel.
*Government denies all but is there a link between that, the stadium knock-down, tram-stop and Lendlease’s vastly expensive Albert Tibby Cotter Bridge?
As to the stadium, the government now says Lendlease was never appointed to the construction, only the demolition. Yet just last December it announced that the “construction contractor” was Lendlease. “Two stages… one contract,” said former sports minister Stuart Ayres.
*Then without warning, although it recently completed Parramatta’s 30,000 seat BankWest stadium for just $360 million, Lendlease is unable to build this 45,000-seater for more than twice that amount, the budgeted $729 million. Remember that the old stadium had that same number of seats, was seldom full and could have been refurbished for a mere $18 million.
Who pushes such a project? Moreover, who signs a three-quarters of a billion-dollar contract with no design commitment? Are these the actions of competent government?
And so to motive. Here, too, there’s commonality: arrogance, indecent haste and the grubby charisma of money.
The main reason for the extravagant Allianz knock-down-rebuild was inadequate corporate boxes and catering facilities. It’s about clubbing it with the rich, sipping the nectar of the smug.
In the case of the casino, it’s about shepherding “whales” in to lose millions without friction or scrutiny.
Packer has likened himself to Icarus, saying “I flew too close to the sun”.
I reckon there was no sun. They’re all just blinded by a big, glinting pile of dosh.
Elizabeth Farrelly is a Sydney-based columnist and author who holds a PhD in architecture and several international writing awards. She is a former editor and Sydney City Councilor. Her books include ‘Glenn Murcutt: Three Houses’, ‘Blubberland; the dangers of happiness’ and ‘Caro Was Here’, crime fiction for children (2014).