Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Gold Coast and Sanctuary Cove

The Gold Coast stretches along 70 kilometres of beaches on the eastern coast of Australia, south of Brisbane. I first heard about the area in the early 1980’s from Mike Gore, a larger than life Australian and member of the ‘white shoes brigade’, who made a lot of money selling a lot of pleasure boats to a lot of wealthy Australians. He visited Vancouver to meet local architects and planners, and get ideas for a major resort community he was planning near the northern end of the Gold Coast. I was introduced to him by Ian Thomas, and spent the weekend riding around in a helicopter that I rented on his behalf. Gore wanted to be the pilot, but the company wouldn’t let him, and I was quite relieved, since the rental contract was on my credit card. The deductible was very high!

Gore took back visions of False Creek, Granville Island and Whistler, and the people who had helped create these special places. Norm Hotson, lead architect for Granville Island, was asked to design the village centre and marina; Rick Hulbert was commissioned to design the flagship Hyatt Regency Hotel; Ian Thomas provided the market advice, and Neil Griggs, with whom I had worked on the development of the South Shore of False Creek, and who subsequently worked with Jim Moodie at Whistler, was hired on as the Project Manager. Neil ended up spending five years in Australia successfully overseeing the transformation of thousands of acres of swamp lands into Sanctuary Cove, today one of the country’s best known resort communities.

Although I never got directly involved with Sanctuary Cove, I received regular updates from Neil, with whom I shared offices at the time. Perhaps I should put it another way. I stored Neil’s files while he worked in Australia, and pretended that he wasn’t really away. I remember vividly taking calls from some of his clients, including Coopers & Lybrand. “I’m sorry. Neil is not in the office at the moment. Can I have him give you a call?” I would then try and track down Neil in Australia, assuming it wasn’t the middle of the night, and leave it to him to respond accordingly!
Over the past 20 years, Sanctuary Cove has gone through many changes. Unfortunately, Gore’s heart could not keep up with his fast paced lifestyle, and he died a number of years ago.
The resort has had different owners, although Greg Norman missed out on being one of them when his offer fell short by a few million dollars.

Unfortunately, we could only spend one night at Sanctuary Cove, since we wanted to get up to Brisbane. I spoke to Neil before we went, and thanks to his generosity, we spent our time there in style. As we drank champagne and enjoyed the privileges of the Regency Club lounge, it dawned on me that we were living the lifestyle that had killed Mike Gore!

Walking around the village centre and marina, I could see the False Creek and Granville Island influences in the street layout and waterfront walkway; the shapes of the buildings, the extensive use of corrugated siding, and the yellow painted pipes and railing details. There is a similar mix of restaurants, marine facilities, retail and office uses. While I kept looking for a Public Market to buy fresh prawns and Queensland bugs, unfortunately it isn’t there. However like Granville Island, the village is undergoing renovations to keep up with the times, and maybe a market will be added one day

In addition to the village centre and hotel, there are two Palmer designed golf courses; the Palms and Pines. The Pines is the members’ course, but as a guest of the hotel, we could play there. But when I saw that one of the Par 3’s had a 185 metre carry over water, I decided we should play the Palms. A few thousand residents now live and play at Sanctuary Cove. While some of Hotson’s early townhouses are amongst the most attractive homes, they are by no means the most expensive. Many of the properties now sell in the $2 to $4 million range, and are owned by Australians and people from around the world who can keep their yachts in the nearby marina.

In order to fully appreciate developments such as Sanctuary Cove, it is helpful to look at the context in which they were built. While development of the Gold Coast began in the thirties, many of the buildings were constructed in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. For a while, there was a 24 storey height restriction, but no restriction on architectural styles. As a result, much of the Coast looks like a mixture of Miami Beach, the Mediterranean, and Vancouver’s West End. In the 80’s, the buildings started to get taller and fatter, but the designs did not really change. I remember Neil saying there were 15 years behind Vancouver in terms of building design and sophistication. More recently, however, the towers have been getting much larger, and fortunately the designs have improved.

I was very impressed with some newer developments. At 1057 feet, Q1 in Surfer’s Paradise is the tallest residential building in the world. With 78 storeys, it has a public observation platform near the top, and a striking architectural form that is as yet unrivalled in Vancouver. The $850 million Soul development will be the second tallest building in Australia when it is completed in about four years. The 77th floor penthouse sold last October for an Australian record $16.85 AUS million (about $16 million CDN.)

While I should have been trying out the surf at Surfers Paradise, there was a cyclone warning, and we were cautioned about large waves. Instead, I decided to take a look at The Wave, another of Australia’s most beautiful residential buildings in nearby Broadbeach. With its curvilinear balconies, the building takes on a different appearance from every angle, and is a photographer’s dream.

I spent some time at two other developments in Broadbeach. The Oracle is a twin tower 40 and 50 storey development under construction near the Gold Coast Convention Centre and Jupiter Casino. Some of its features include Zen Gardens and a Tai Chi Lawn, four swimming pools, private wine lockers, a Teppanyaki grill, and access to an executive lounge where residents can socialize with their neighbours. The kitchen and bathrooms are very refined and sophisticated.

I was also impressed with Freshwater Point, a recently completed mid-rise development where we stayed. Again, we found it on Wotif, and we felt privileged to be there. The development is very contemporary in its design, with extensive trellises to block the sun, and add architectural interest. Like many of the new developments, it caters to both end users and investors who rent their suites for short or long term stay. However, in this development, the different users are separated into different buildings, each with its own swimming pool and amenities. Consequently, the owner-occupiers did not have to mingle with holiday makers like us. Interestingly, there is a 50% cap on the number of foreigners who can buy into any new multi-family building in Australia.

While we were exploring the Gold Coast, Gordon Price was speaking at the Convention Centre at a conference on Transit Oriented Development, and Livable Communities. I thought about sitting in since I would love to have heard Gord’s take on the place, and what he thought can be learned from Vancouver’s experiences. But we were heading north, while he was heading south, and we didn’t connect. But there are lessons which we can learn from one another, and I have set out a few thoughts in an upcoming Vancouver Sun story.

So to all my friends and colleagues in the design and development business, I would urge you to visit the Gold Coast. It’s definitely not 15 years behind us anymore!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Highly energetic blog, I loved that a lot.
Will there be a part 2?

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