COAST'S BILLION-DOLLAR FIELD OF DREAMS
1 September 2016, Written by Nick Nichols
IT'S a massive parcel of underutilised caneland, it's as large as Manhattan Island in New York and it could be the Gold Coast's answer to Orlando, the undisputed theme park capital of the world.
In an extraordinary case of neighbours uniting for a cause, more than 6100ha of caneland nestled in the burgeoning urban corridor between Brisbane and the Gold Coast is being put up for sale for a deal that could be worth more than $1 billion for its 40 landowners.
The site, on the eastern side of the M1, comprises 248 lots stretching from Yatala in the north, Pimpama to the south and Jacobs Well to the east.
A sale of this scale could make it the largest single land deal in Australia and create a major development boom for south-east Queensland.
The company behind the deal is Global Enterprise Management Solutions, headed by Sydney architect Rob Machon and former stockbroker Wayne Cummins.
It has spent the past nine months working with commercial realtor Canford Property Group putting the deal together, revealing that the mammoth site has already sparked interest from some of China's largest developers and theme park operators.
Although Canford does not name any parties, China's richest man Wang Jianlin, whose company Dalian Wanda is building the $1 billion Jewel development in Surfers Paradise, has previously announced plans to build 20 theme parks globally in a bid to shake Disney's hold on the family entertainment market.
An information memorandum for potential buyers highlights Orlando's status as the theme park capital of the world with nine theme parks attracting 55 million visitors a year and generating $44 billion a year in revenue.
"Similarly, the Gold Coast is regarded as Australia's premier theme park destination," it says.
The proponents say high density housing is not part of the vision for the holding, with 2500ha to be dedicated to open spaces.
The information memorandum also suggests a single buyer has the opportunity to rehabilitate the natural environment that has been denuded by a century of agriculture, create new waterways and lakes and better plan for major infrastructure such as a new eastern transport corridor to ease congestion on the M1.
Canford principal Roland Evans expects the city-sized land parcel, branded by the group as the Norwell Valley canefields, to garner interest from a broad range of international buyers.
"We could never have imagined such an opportunity would become available anywhere, let alone on the Gold Coast," says Evans.
"It provides an opportunity for someone with foresight to craft the city of tomorrow.
"This land is a blank canvas offering the chance to develop a masterpiece that will stand out on the world stage."
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate says a master-planned development incorporating health, education and silicon Valley-style technology hubs would deliver a major boost for jobs in the region.
"We have 13,000 to 15,000 people moving to the Gold Coast every year," he says.
"The Gold Coast is the state leader in employment and a project like this will keep us number one.
"The secondary opportunities of education-sector expansion and Silicon Valley-type activity is particularly exciting to me.
"Of course, there will be residential in and around these nodes. It is smart planning to have many of the job-holders near their place of employment. That's how you ensure transport and traffic congestion is managed."
Most of the land being offered has been used for sugar cane farming for more than a century.
However, farmers in the region from Jacobs Well to Steiglitz and Woongoolba have been urging successive state governments to seek alternate uses for the land, with many farming families looking to exit the struggling local industry.
Production issues with the Rocky Point sugar mill have compounded the current problems, with suggestions that the privately-owned mill needs a $5 million upgrade to remain viable. It is currently out of action.
The first step for the landowners is to find a buyer with sufficient financial clout to see the project to fruition.
"We expect that negotiating a re-zoning of the land will be a very detailed process," says Canford's Evans.
"Success in that endeavour should give a buyer a pipeline of exciting and diverse development opportunities that could last 15 years or more."
The site is being offered through an expressions of interest campaign, although no closing date for the campaign has been set.
Author: Nick Nichols