Pyrmont looks towards the heavens. Photo: Saberwyn via WikiCommons.

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By Laura Neill

Pyrmont could become the next high-rise peninsula to support Sydney’s CBD, according to development lobby group Urban Taskforce.

Last month, the group released a long-term “vision” for the area, which included unprecedented high-rise development to maintain the city’s global competitive edge.

The 2040 vision, designed by award-winning Sydney architectural firm LAVA, showed clusters of translucent skyscrapers superimposed onto the existing medium-rise landscape.

Chris Johnson, CEO of Urban Taskforce, stated that the regeneration of Darling Harbour and the Fishmarkets are among the catalysts for the change.

“We see the peninsula…as being a genuine mixed-use development precinct with entertainment and hospitality uses as well as being a focus for IT and Creative industries,” he said in a media release.

LAVA director Chris Bosse described Pyrmont’s current state as a collection of “scattered buildings”. “What we need is a way for them to be connected,” he said. “Pyrmont is so close to the city. There is enormous potential for residential, entertainment and hi-tech businesses all to be developed just five minutes from the CBD.”

The vision comes just months after the Star Entertainment Group lodged a Development Application with the NSW Department of Planning for a 61-storey Ritz Carlton Hotel Tower to be added to the existing Star Casino. The 237m hotel, with 220 hotel rooms and 200 high-rise residences, would dominate the Pyrmont skyline, towering over its harbourside counterpart the 38-storey Sofitel.

Star Entertainment Group CEO Matt Bekier said the tower will deliver significant benefits to the local community, with the project including a 5-level neighbourhood centre, a social enterprise café, reading room, collaboration hub and rooftop terrace.

“As a company, we take pride in fostering and supporting the communities in which we operate,” Bekier said.

Local Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich has objected to the proposal, calling the tower a “daunting, bulky figure” that would cause wind impacts and obliterate winter sunlight in neighbouring residences, particularly Union Square and Pyrmont Bay Park.

“It will suffocate important public spaces and erode the experience of these important public places for private benefit,” he said in his response to the proposal.

The City of Sydney also submitted a 13-page objection to the tower.

If the Ritz-Carlton is approved, it will initiate a radical rethink of heights and zoning along the peninsula. Currently, the Casino site sits in an area with a height limit of 28 metres under the current LEP. The area is also zoned for commercial use only.

Elizabeth Elenius, convenor of the Pyrmont Action Group, fears that the height of the tower could become a precedent for further skyscrapers.

“We could have 61-storey towers in the Bays Precinct on the basis of the precedent set by this tower,” Ms Elenius said. “It’s this precedent that gives us the most concern. Once you’ve got one 61-storey hotel in Pyrmont, how can you argue against others?”

Ms Elenius said that hints about expansion of the CBD to Pyrmont were contained in the documentation associated with the proposed Ritz-Carlton building.

“It states that Pyrmont is at the beginning of a transition, just when we thought we’d reached the end of the transition from industrial sites to residential/commercial redevelopment,” Ms Elenius said. “To say that we are alert and alarmed is an understatement.”

Pyrmont’s rise in popularity is only relatively recent. In the post-war years up until the 70s and 80s, it was considered an undesirable neighbourhood due to the post-war popularity of suburban living, the relocation or closing of manufacturing and industry, and the freeways that cut it off from neighbouring Ultimo. In the 1990s, the government-initiated Better Cities Program transformed the abandoned and derelict warehouses into office spaces and apartment blocks, and the area saw a resurgence in popularity. The Star Casino was officially opened in 1997 and, by 2004, the population of the area had blown out to 13,000. In 2018, the ABS states that the area now has over 22,000 residents.

Urban Taskforce also names the impending move of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta as another factor that will impact on the transition of Pyrmont to high-rise development. Although the final use of the space has yet to be decided, a document by the Cultural Infrastructure Program Management Office released earlier in the year showed that the NSW Government had already priced the sell-off of the Museum site for residential and commercial development. A plan for two or three storeys of office space, a fashion and design museum, and a 1500-seat lyric theatre is also being considered.

Recently, the adjacent site, Hannah’s Pies, made up of a warehouse and adjoining terrace houses, sold at auction for around $20 million to Caper Properties, a company specialising in the build-to-rent and co-living sectors. Last year, the nearby vacant lot at 142-152 Broadway sold to the University of Notre Dame for $21 million. The site is reported to have flexible, mixed-use zoning.

Although the future of Pyrmont is still unclear, a further evolution of the area seems almost inevitable as the city of Sydney moves towards 8 million people over the next 40 years.