Circular Quay upgrades will include replacing ferry wharves. Photo: Vanessa Lim

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By Vanessa Lim

A long-needed upgrade of the Circular Quay ferry wharves has created an opportunity to completely reimagine the iconic gateway into Sydney.

Alongside $200 million reserved for the project from Restart NSW, Transport NSW is offering a Structured Market Engagement (SME) which will allow the private sector to tender for management of the renewal of Circular Quay and the wharves.

The process would see the private sector working in partnership with the NSW Government to complete the revitalisation project, though it isn’t clear how the precinct would be managed from then on.

A spokesperson from Transport NSW said, “The wharf upgrade is the catalyst for the Government to explore opportunities for a renewal of the broader Circular Quay precinct in partnership with the private sector”.

“The Government will continue with industry engagement with the private sector into 2019 to come up with the best, value-for-money solution.”

The decision to move forward with renovation of the wharves has come in response to an assessment that the tourist precinct was neither accessible to all visitors nor capable of meeting the demands of future growth.

A spokesperson from Transport NSW said the “wharves are ageing and need to meet new accessibility requirements.”

“Transport for NSW would ensure ferry services continue during construction. Customers would be fully informed of any wharf or timetable changes ahead of time.”

This commitment would seem ambitious given the logistical issues facing a development in the middle of one of the city’s public transport interchanges which is also Sydney’s most popular tourist spot.

Transport NSW promised the renewal would not diminish the appeal of current landmarks nor disrupt major events such as Vivid or Australia Day celebrations.

Criteria were set by Transport NSW to “ensure the ferry wharf precinct will complement the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House”.

The height of the wharves would need “to be lower than the Bradfield Highway and not include residential use”, ruling out a development similar to Woolloomooloo’s Finger Wharf.

SydneyWay founder Tim Cole has had a long-term interest in Circular Quay, and has a vision for the renewal, “a garden gateway to NSW and national reconciliation bridge” which he is hoping to put in front of the developers leading the tender bid, via a Pozible crowdfunding campaign.

SydneyWay’s website describes “an outdoor classroom to teach our kids and visitors, indigenous and modern Australian culture and heritage…5m high interchangeable mosaics will educate and entertain …SydneyWay will use the best art and design with native vertical gardens and on-site energy systems to transform the Quay into a beautiful oasis of greenery”.      While Mr Cole hopes the SydneyWay design will prevail, he insisted “Anything will be better, and the best plan should be used…the benefit of SydneyWay is its spiritual beauty, culturally it is what Australia needs”.

Mr Cole said 75% of the project could be built off-site, minimising the disruption to commuters and residents.

A short list of potential developers is expected in March 2019.