04 Jan 2018

Decaying real estate: The Brisbane properties worth millions being left to rot

Ever driven past a house or a building and wondered why it’s been left to rot? Some of Brisbane’s most well-known sites, which have sat degrading for years, are also prime pieces of real estate.

The reasons they are left untouched vary and, according to Brisbane City Council deputy mayor and local councillor Adrian Schrinner, there is little that council can do.

“Council may step in and take enforcement action if the property poses a public hazard or safety concern, but our efforts would be focused on making the site safe,” he says.

“Ultimately, we can’t force an owner to redevelop a vacant or unused site. If they want to pay holding costs, council rates and state taxes without actually using the land, it may be a financially questionable investment decision — but it certainly isn’t illegal.”

In many cases, the sorry state of these properties belies their worth. Recently, Belle Property New Farm principal Ivo Kornel sold a Queenslander on Hastings Street, New Farm, for a staggering $1.65 million, despite the fact it was literally rotting from the inside, full of rising damp and nearly condemned due to termite damage.

Abandoned years ago and left vacant since then, the house was on the verge of being condemned, with parts of the house unable to be accessed for safety reasons, yet it still attracted huge interest during its campaign.

“I’ve never seen a worse house than this – it has serious issues – but the fact is, (it was) a huge opportunity in a great street,” Mr Kornel said.

It’s coming up to seven years since Drift restaurant was famously washed away during the 2011 floods but this now iconic eyesore, a rare riverfront holding, is no closer to being resurrected.

The sight of Drift – formerly known as Oxley’s on the River – floating down the Brisbane River and crashing into the Go Between Bridge was one of the most heartbreaking images from the 2011 floods.

Its effect was long-lasting, sending Drift’s owner broke and leaving what would become a vandalised shell to rot on the riverbank.

Hopes were high when plans for a new restaurant with function rooms, a cafe, bars and lounges were submitted by developer Scotbar Civil in 2015 but the application lapsed late last year and council has confirmed they have had no further submissions since then.

City planning chairman Cr Julian Simmonds told Domain he met with the owners earlier this year to express council’s concerns and widespread community frustration about delays in fixing the floating restaurant.

“Council was very keen to see Drift Restaurant restored as soon as possible and I share residents’ disappointment that progress has still not been made to have the restaurant re-established,” Cr Simmonds said.

“In an effort to get this issue sorted, I have written to the state government asking for them to revoke their lease with the site’s current tenant.

“While I acknowledge the difficult circumstances of the 2011 flood that led to the site’s destruction, it has become apparent that the current tenant has no immediate intention or capability to restore the site.

“Council and the community share concerns that this derelict site is detracting from the amenity of the area, but as the site was established through a lease between the state government and a private individual, council has had no authority to intervene.

“The state government has ample cause to revoke this lease and council has offered to work directly with them to remove the remaining structure.

“I call on the state government to action my request as a priority.”

Another multimillion-dollar site that has been left abandoned is Hawkins Nursery on Old Cleveland Road at Chandler.

Originally owned by gardening guru John Hawkins, the 4.5-hectare site — once a lush, thriving nursery with sprawling, manicured gardens and its own cafe and furniture shop — was bought by Eden Gardens & Home in 2010.

The Sydney-based nursery giant paid $10.5 million for it and kept it open and operating until 2014, before it was shut down permanently.

Since then, it has sat seemingly abandoned and untouched. Previously beautiful shrubs, trees and gardens beds now lie overgrown and neglected as the buildings fall into disrepair, vandalised and burnt out.

No development applications have been lodged for the site, which is zoned as rural. Eden Gardens & Home could not be contacted for comment.

One of Brisbane’s best-known eyesores, the former Red Hill Skate Arena, has sat abandoned and vandalised since it was burnt to the ground in a fire in 2002.

On the corner of Musgrave Road and Enoggera Terrace in one of Brisbane’s most affluent suburbs, the site is worth a small fortune, despite its run-down state – its owners paid $2.25 million for it in 2015. There are reportedly plans to redevelop the site.

And plans are finally underway to give one of Fortitude Valley’s most run-down precincts a new lease on life, with the historic Walton’s building now up for sale. It’s the first time in 33 years the heritage-listed building has been on the market and hopes are high it will be revitalised by a new owner.

Knight Frank’s Christian Sandstrom said a tender had recently closed and the vendors were currently in negotiations.

The buildings date back to the early 1900s, when Fortitude Valley grew to become a retail heartland for Brisbane, including institutional Brisbane retailers TC Beirne, McWhirters and Waltons.

The buildings could now be transformed into a retail, residential or commercial centre, or a mixed-use development, or linked to an arts facility or theatre


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