LATEST UPDATE: Here's an email I sent out after our community meeting on Saturday, 22 September. Further below, you can find a longer write-up about the hotel...
I'm sending this to everyone who has expressed concerns about over-development in the Gabba Ward or a specific interest in the future of the Broadway Hotel at Woolloongabba.
Thank you so much to everybody who came along to our public meeting about the hotel on Saturday afternoon. It was great to see so much enthusiasm and support for preserving the hotel, with people travelling from as far away as Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast to be part of the discussion.
At the meeting, there was extremely strong support for the hotel site being acquired by council or the State Government so that it could remain in public hands, with only a couple of people believing the hotel should remain in private ownership.
There was also strong agreement that profit-driven highrise development has gotten out of hand in Brisbane, and that all levels of government need to do more to provide public green space and community infrastructure to cater for our growing population. Most attendees agreed that even a 20-storey tower to the rear of the Broadway Hotel site would be too tall and would undermine the heritage values of the old pub.
The community was much more divided as to whether the hotel needed to be rebuilt exactly in accordance with its original design, with some people arguing that the hotel’s internal features are just as important in terms of heritage as the external façade, while other residents noted that although the insides of the restored hotel should remain true to the style and theme of the original building, some flexibility is necessary in order to facilitate disability access and ensure the layout of the hotel rooms best accommodates future community uses. This is a tricky question that we should all have further discussions about among our friends and family. How closely does the design of the restored hotel need to match the original building?
Another interesting suggestion to come out of the meeting was that once the site comes back into public ownership, it might be possible to organise volunteers and in-kind support from industry professionals to rebuild the heritage hotel for a much cheaper price than it would cost if left up to private contractors. This idea would require further exploration down the line, but there are plenty of successful examples of this from cities around the world.
It was a useful first meeting to bring people together and share information. But this is only the start of the struggle...
Call key decision-makers
Right now, we need as many people as possible to call on both Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (Ph 3403 4400, email email@example.com) and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad (Ph 3724 9100, email firstname.lastname@example.org) to buy the Broadway Hotel and rebuild it for public use. If you haven’t already contacted these two decision-makers, please take a moment to do so.
There are a few petitions about the hotel floating around, but our council epetition is specifically calling for Brisbane City Council to buy the site, so it would be useful to get as many signatures on it as possible. Please sign hereand encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same.
Valuing the land
Given that we want the council and State Government to buy this site, we need a clearer estimate of the property’s current value. We’ve asked a few property industry people for their thoughts, but if anyone with experience in land valuation can spend some time coming up with a more accurate value for the 93 Logan Rd site in its current state (keeping in mind the requirement to rebuild the hotel and the zoning of 20 storeys) as well as the neighbouring sites at 44 Balaclava St and 85 Logan Rd, we would love to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com.
Expert design panel
A couple of architects, landscape architects and other design professionals have expressed interest in creating concept plans for redeveloping the Broadway site as a community facility and public park. If you have any expertise in this area and would like to be involved, please send me an email and we’ll link you in with the group. Hopefully we can come up with a design proposal that’s practically feasible but can also inspire more people to get excited about possibilities for this site.
Down the track, we might look at broadening this into a collaborative community design process, but we don’t want to spend too much time and energy on that until we have a firmer commitment that council and the State Government are going to put up the money to buy the site.
Community campaign meeting
With council and State Government elections on the horizon in 2020, now is a good time to start building political pressure for this site to be acquired and brought back into public ownership. For that to happen, we’ll need a robust community campaign spearheaded by residents to build pressure on city councillors and State MPs across the city.
We’re holding a campaign organising meeting at my office at 4pm on the afternoon of Saturday, 6 October (office address is 2/63 Annerley Rd, Woolloongabba, and you can access the meeting room via the rear entry by going through the carpark off Crown Street). This meeting is specifically for people who might want to volunteer a bit of time and energy fighting for the restoration of the Broadway Hotel.
Even if you can only spare a couple of hours a week, please come along to this meeting and we can start planning further actions to save this historic site. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if you’re coming.
If you can’t make this particular meeting but would still like to be actively involved in helping organise the campaign, please let us know and we’ll keep you in the loop.
The fight to rebuild the Broadway and repurpose this site for public use is a crucial part of the broader struggle to preserve heritage and protect against over-development across South-East Queensland. It's also an amazing opportunity to secure more public green space, community facilities and perhaps even a small component of affordable housing or crisis accommodation for people fleeing domestic violence. The more people who get involved in this campaign, the better our chances are of success. But if we don’t stand up to protect Brisbane’s unique character and identity, we risk losing it forever.
Feel free to forward this email to anyone else who might be interested, and hopefully we’ll see you at the campaign organising meeting on Saturday, 6 October.
Where to Next?
Lots of residents have been asking what’s going to happen to the Broadway Hotel after the most recent fire. Both the State Government and Brisbane City Council have said they want the hotel restored, but that seems unlikely if it’s left up to the private sector.
I won’t run through the full, fascinating history of this hotel, but the most relevant immediate background context is that it was functioning as a bar and entertainment venue right up until 2010, when a fire caused some significant internal damage, but no major structural damage.
The current owner of the hotel site at 93 Logan Rd and the neighbouring vacant office building at 44 Balaclava Street is Malcolm Nyst, who currently owns or part-owns several other historic buildings around Queensland including the Fox Hotel on Melbourne St in South Brisbane. We understand Mr Nyst bought the hotel site (93 Logan Rd) for $700 000 in January 1997 from Quetel Pty Ltd but we haven’t been able to confirm that. The neighbouring site at 85 Logan Rd (which is currently used as an impound lot for towed cars) is currently owned by Mr and Mrs Economidis.
Photos from post-fire inspections in 2010, along with statements from a heritage restoration architect who worked on the hotel, confirm that the building was still very much salvageable. It probably would have cost less than $1 million to restore.
There have been more small fires in the building in recent years, including one on 20 May, 2017. You can read the fire inspection reports here and here. There were local anecdotal reports of another small fire in October 2017.
Image 1: The Broadway Hotel after the 2010 Fire; Image 2: The Broadway Hotel in August 2018
The hotel is protected on both Brisbane City Council’s local heritage register, and on the State Government’s State Heritage Register. This means both levels of government have powers and responsibilities to ensure the historic buildings are protected and maintained, and that both levels of government have to give approval for any new development affecting the site.
The heritage listing includes the main three-storey hotel building, but also the various one-storey and two-storey wings/ancillary buildings at the back and sides. Some of these ancillary buildings are also quite hold and carry a lot of heritage value in and of themselves. There’s even a World War 2 air raid shelter at the back of the property. You can read the State Heritage Register listing at this link.
World War 2 Air Raid Shelter
Highrise Development Plans
Over the last few years, Seb Monsour of Majella Properties was in negotiation with Mr Nyst and Mr and Mrs Economidis to buy the hotel site at 93 Logan Rd as well as the neighbouring properties (85 Logan Rd and 44 Balaclava St), subject to approval of a development application. This is not an uncommon practice for some developers. They get the written consent of the existing landowners to lodge a development application for a site, then once the development is approved, it becomes a lot easier for the developer to get loans from a bank to buy the land and finance the development.
Majella lodged a development application in March 2017 to build a 27-storey highrise tower on the hotel site (including 85 Logan and 44 Balaclava). The proposal included 262 residential apartments, 379 carparks and just under 5300m2 of commercial space. You can view all the plans at this link. The plans proposed to demolish the smaller buildings that are part of the hotel (some of which have significant heritage value), while preserving and restoring the main three-storey structure (the most iconic part of the hotel) at the front. From the moment my office became aware of the plans, we were pushing strongly for them to be rejected.
The site was zoned for 20 storeys, but heritage considerations can override the zoning, and there is a strong argument to be made that locating a 20-storey building so close to the hotel (and looming over it) would have undermined its heritage values. There was no guarantee that a 20-storey tower immediately behind the hotel would have been approved by both BCC and the State Government – a lot depended on the subjective discretionary judgement of the heritage experts within the State Government’s State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA).
Even though the current LNP-dominated city council is very pro-highrise, it seemed unlikely to me that the 27-storey development application would have been approved by council, particularly considering that it required demolition of the ancillary wings of the hotel.
Tower with old hotel in foreground
On 9 June 2017, BCC issued an information request to the developer, raising concerns about the height and bulk of the tower, the insufficient setbacks (the space between buildings), the details of the proposed restoration of the main hotel building and a number of smaller issues. You can read the information request at this link. Disappointingly, although council was concerned about a 27-storey building, the council did not necessarily object to a 20-storey tower on the site behind the hotel.
Around June/July 2017, the developer applied to the State Government for approval for emergency demolition of several of the ancillary buildings on the basis that the small fire in May 2017 had made them unsafe and unsalvageable, and that urgent demolition was necessary. We understand that the State Government approved this partial demolition of the hotel, but it never happened.
In September 2017, it appears that the State Government approved Majella’s highrise development plans (including the demolition of the one and two-storey wings of the hotel). This was a disappointing and surprising move by the State Government, but it did not necessarily mean the city council would definitely approve the new tower. It seems SARA had no concerns about the loss of the one and two-storey wings of the hotel or the fact that a 27-storey tower would be looming over the old building. Meanwhile, the height concerns and other design issues raised by the council’s request for information were still an outstanding question mark.
Over the next few months, the developer requested multiple time extensions to respond to the council’s information request from 9 June, 2017. This suggests to me that Majella was not sure how to proceed and did not consider that the project would be commercially viable if council insisted on the 20-storey height limit. Presumably, Majella had calculated that it could afford to retain and restore the main hotel building (demolishing the secondary wings) only if it was able to build up to 27 storeys, but without the 7 extra storeys, it wasn’t profitable enough.
On 4 June, 2018, Seb Monsour (CEO of Majella) wrote to council requesting another three-month time extension. On 8 June, the council replied and gave Majella an extension for just one month, so a response was due from the developer on 9 July, 2018.
On 22 June, news broke that Seb Monsour had been charged by police for $5 million of investment fraud. The legal proceedings regarding these charges are ongoing and probably won’t be resolved for some time.
On 10 July, 2018, Seb Monsour wrote to Brisbane City Council and formally withdrew his development application.
Broadway demolition plan
On the night of Saturday, 1 September 2018, another large fire engulfed the main three-storey hotel building. Firefighters were called at 12:40am, suggesting the fire had started just after midnight.
Witnesses reported noisy explosions during the blaze.
I still haven’t seen any fire inspection reports, but it seems pretty unlikely that a definitive cause will be identified. As usual, the fire will probably just be blamed on squatters.
We don’t yet know exactly what condition the hotel is now in, although the damage looks pretty bad.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that structural engineers haven’t yet inspected the property properly because they don’t believe it’s safe to go in.
Was the Hotel Properly Maintained?
It’s pretty obvious that the hotel was not being maintained and secured to a standard appropriate for a State Heritage-listed building.
I won’t go into all the details, but it did seem like the hotel was being allowed to deteriorate. Photos taken inside the hotel in August 2018 show that a large amount of flammable debris had been allowed to build up inside the building. When these photos are compared to photos taken immediately after the 2010 fire, it’s obvious that the building was not being kept clean and secure. A lot of damage occurred after the 2010 fire rather than during the 2010 fire.
Major holes and leaks in the roof went unrepaired, and water damage was spreading throughout the building.
One photo from February 2015 even shows that old gas canisters had been left in the historic World War 2 air raid shelter at the back of the property. The presence of gas canisters on site might explain the explosions reported on the night of 1 September, 2018.
Our office regularly reported our concerns about the hotel to Brisbane City Council, as did many other residents. It seems that BCC and the State Government’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection both inspected the property on multiple occasions, but only asked for minor security enhancements, such as boarding up doors and windows and erecting more fencing. Neither level of government issued any fines to the owner for failing to secure the property, or for failing to clean up the flammable debris inside the building.
Regardless of the cause of the fire, it seems obvious to me that the building was not being maintained in such a way as to minimise the risk of fire damage. Even cheap and simple steps like cleaning up old mattresses and piles of rubbish were not taken.
On one occasion, when I raised my concerns about the building directly with Seb Monsour, he said that because he wasn’t technically the owner (which is true), it wasn’t his responsibility to secure and maintain the building. Make of that what you will.
Ultimately, both levels of government failed to act to protect the building. In some other jurisdictions, if an owner of a historic building fails to maintain it, the government will go and make the repairs itself, and then bill the owner for the costs, but that doesn’t happen in Queensland. In this case, the State Government didn’t even issue simple fines to the owner, but seemed to accept that the steps the owner took to secure the property were sufficient.
Until someone produces some structural engineering reports, it’s an open question as to whether the building can be saved and restored. Deputy Premier Trad has said publicly that if the fire-damaged structure has to be torn down for safety reasons, it should be rebuilt in a manner identical to the original design.
In fact, if the hotel was renovated or completely rebuilt, new building regulations and disability access requirements would mean that some pretty major changes would have to be made to the internal layout and design of the building compared to the original design.
My main concern is that now the burnt out hotel is just going to sit there for another ten or twenty years.
It’s all well and good for council and the State Government to insist that the hotel should be rebuilt, but this ignores the commercial realities of the private property industry.
How Much is the Site Worth?
The site at 93 Logan Rd is a bit under 2200m2 and is zoned for 20 storeys. This is an usual site, and I’m definitely not a property valuer, but depending on market conditions, an empty block of land of that size in Woolloongabba might sell for anywhere between $3 and $8 million. If you sold it as a package with the neighbouring lots at 44 Balaclava St and 85 Logan Rd (taking the total site area up to around 3300m2) or you had an existing development approval for highrises, you could probably get even more for it.
But with a strict requirement to restore or rebuild the old hotel, which has a footprint of almost 900m2, the land is substantially less valuable and commercially attractive. You have to factor in the cost of building the old hotel (which local architects and developers tell me would probably be around $3 million) plus you have a significantly reduced development footprint.
The hotel business is risky at the best of times. And there’s already an oversupply in Woolloongabba of commercial space. Around the 4102 postcode, a lot of properties that have been fitted out as retail stores, offices, restaurants or bars are sitting empty at the moment. Even Majella’s development proposal did not actually include preserving the majority of the three-storey hotel building as a hotel, and instead contemplated putting the restored building to other uses.
When I asked one local developer how much he thought the site was worth if it included a strict requirement to rebuild the Broadway, he said it was almost worthless. Under current market conditions, it simply isn’t financially profitable to redevelop this site. That means the current owner will struggle to find a buyer, and no profit-focussed developer is going to want to touch it.
As someone who watches the trajectories of the Brisbane development industry pretty closely, and is well aware of how many developers are currently postponing or pulling out of other apartment development projects around Woolloongabba, I think it is very unlikely that anyone is going to want to lodge a new development application for this property any time in the next five years at least.
A recurring problem
Anyone who owns a heritage-listed property will confirm that maintaining them can be very expensive. Even when they haven’t been damaged by fire, heritage buildings can be a big financial burden. As a result, it’s quite common for old buildings to be left to deteriorate, or to mysteriously catch fire. A similar fate looks likely for another State Heritage-listed building in Kangaroo Point, known locally as Lamb House, which is sitting empty with big holes in the roof, and slowly falling apart.
Leaving historically significant buildings in private ownership is a dicey gamble, particularly in the inner-city. The owners have a lot of compelling financial motivations not to look after a building, because the land is usually worth more without the building on it.
That’s why it’s particularly important that when a heritage-listed building does fall down, or burn down or become infested with termites, strict limitations must be placed on how the site is redeveloped, to avoid creating an incentive for other property owners to neglect their buildings in the same way. If a hotel like the Broadway burns down, and a current or future owner is allowed to build a highrise on the site, the government is essentially rewarding and endorsing the owner’s neglect. So limiting development as a protective deterrent for other heritage sites makes a lot of sense. But it also makes private development less commercially viable.
It’s time to buy back the Broadway
The BCC and the State Government have backed themselves into a bit of a corner. Both levels of government share responsibility for the owner's failure to protect and maintain the hotel. And both levels of government have said they'd like to see the hotel restored. But it is not commercially profitable for private sector developers to do this, and that's not likely to change anytime soon.
If the hotel site remains in private ownership, the government can either allow a developer to knock down the fire-damaged hotel and build 20 storey highrises on the entire site (which I and most residents definitely don't support), or else the abandoned hotel is likely to just sit there for years and years, because private developers won't go near it.
Right now in Woolloongabba, there is an extreme shortage of useable public green space and community facilities. Local halls for hire are regularly booked out, and local community organisations are struggling to find affordable spaces to operate out of. Musicians and artists can’t find affordable spaces to rehearse and perform, and the local live music scene is vulnerable as a result of this. There’s a growing need in this part of the 4102 postcode for a new community centre, and for a range of other support services. The thousands of new apartment residents need spaces for recreation and connecting with their neighbours. They don’t have backyards of their own, so public parks are becoming particularly important.
The Broadway Hotel site is the perfect opportunity to create a new public park with a multipurpose community centre in the middle of it. It’s on a main transport corridor with good street frontages, and would link well to the existing chain of green spaces that connect to the Norman Creek corridor. All the sites around it are zoned for high-density development, so long-term, there are going to be a lot more people in this neighbourhood who are craving green space and community facilities.
Immediately adjacent to the hotel site is a council-owned carpark, which forms part of the road reserve. This under-used patch of bitumen could be combined with 93 Logan Rd (and possibly also 44 Balaclava St and 85 Logan Rd) to create a public park with an area of a couple thousand square metres. With a bit of creative design thinking, part of the site could also be used to build some government-owned public housing or crisis accommodation for people who are struggling to afford homes in the private sector.
I believe the State Government and Brisbane City Council should buy the Broadway Hotel site and bring it back into public ownership and control. There are a range of public uses to which the land could be put, but if we leave it up to the private sector, it’s just going to sit vacant and deteriorate further.
Ideally, the existing hotel could be restored and rebuilt as a community centre and live music venue, or a new community centre that replicates some of the quirky character of the old hotel could take its place. The current owner might not be willing to sell, but the State Government has the power to compulsorily acquire it. Given the site’s historical significance, and the fact that the building has not been properly protected while it remained in private ownership, I think this would be a fair and reasonable step.
It’s time to buy back the Broadway.
If you agree, please take a moment to email Lord Mayor Graham Quirk at email@example.com and the South Brisbane Member of Parliament, Jackie Trad (who is also the State Government’s Deputy Premier and Treasurer) at firstname.lastname@example.org and call on both of them to buy the Broadway Hotel and dedicate the site towards community purposes rather than private highrise development.