Crown Resorts, the casino company owned by billionaire James Packer, is requesting a special deal from the Victorian Planning Minister. The company is asking for an extension on its permit to build the tallest skyscraper in Australia. The existing permit is expiring on March 2.
This is the second time the company is seeking special permission. In March 2017, the planning minister Richard Wynne used special powers to grant the $1.75 billion Southbank development to continue without warning. Crown and its development partner Schiavello received two years to begin construction on the said property which is named One Queensbridge tower. It will be 323 meters high, 26 meters taller from the Eureka Tower.
The building will be constructed in place of a historical pub and some other constructions. They have sat dormant in the area ever since as the constriction hasn’t begun. Rumors are surfacing about Crown and Schiavello’s reluctance to shoulder the massive construction costs. Interestingly, the plan to build this tower was approved by minister Wynne when the hot apartment market of Melbourne had begun to cool down, and there were warnings of oversupply. The One Queensbridge tower was to offer 708 apartments along with a 388-room hotel.
Crown is one of the biggest corporate donors in Australian politics. Reports from the Australian Electoral Commission for the financial year 2017-18 show that the Crown have $180,638 to Labor and Liberal parties. In Victoria alone, it gave $30,000 to the Liberal Party and $35,000 to Labor. In fact, the company’s founder Lloyd Williams was caught on camera telling the opposition leader than Packer would everything to help Labor during the 2014 state election.
Crown’s tower was asked to approve by the company without public notice, and Wynne approved their request despite opposition from the Melbourne City Council. Wynne’s spokeswoman has confirmed that the company is asking for an extension in its planning permission. She said that the request would be assessed through a normal process and the community will be informed of the outcomes.
Former chair of finance at the Melbourne City Council, Stephen Mayne, who is campaigning against gambling, called the decision to approve the One Queensbridge tower a disgrace. He called it a dark day for planning in Victoria and said that the permit should not be renewed in any way or form. He also called the tower a corporate sweetheart deal negotiated between Daniel Andrews and James Packer.
Both Mayne and Wynne were personally against the tower but approved it due to Cabinet solidarity. Crown Resorts will need quick reconciliation for their plans as they will have to update shareholders of the details of their project when the half-year financial results are posted later this month. Ken Barton, Crown’s chief financial officer, said that it was difficult to find a partner to assume the risk of the property development due to the slowing Melbourne apartment market.