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Packer’s billion dollar Sydney casino wins support

Crown's proposed hotel and casino at Barangaroo (centre)

BY JAMES WILKINSON

James Packer’s proposed billion dollar Crown Casino development at Barangaroo in Sydney could become a reality after the Premier of New South Wales said he would be a “mug” if he didn’t consider it.

Speaking to ABC radio in Sydney, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell said “Any premier would be a mug if people are saying we want to invest a billion dollars in NSW not to at least hear those proponents out”.

Packer’s plans for a billion dollar development on area currently earmarked as parkland on the Barangaroo site swamped the Australian media on Monday (Feb 27), generating support and opposition to the plan that would feature a 350-room luxury hotel and casino.

While O’Farrell was quick to throw his support behind the project, saying it would bring jobs and increased visitors to Sydney, he was cautious about the project because of the numerous regulatory approvals that would need to be overcome, such as a casino license.

Echo Entertainment, owners of The Star in Pyrmont, currently have the sole casino license for Sydney, which is under an exclusive arrangement until 2019.

Luxury from top to bottom: the proposed Crown hotel and casino in Sydney

However, with Crown Limited having just increased its stake in Echo Entertainment to 10 per cent late last week, some media outlets are reporting if Packer were to win control, which would include The Star, he could potentially offer gaming at the new casino under an extended license.

The new project isn’t winning support from all circles, with Sydney Mayor Clover Moore and former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating both speaking out against the project in recent days.

Keating, who is also the former Chairman of the Barangaroo Design Excellence Review Panel, met Packer about the proposed development yesterday (Feb 28) and last night issued a statement saying that the billionaire should not build the casino on land that is earmarked to be parkland.

“I made clear to Mr Packer that to the extent any proposals he and his Crown Group had for a major hotel building, that such proposals could only be accommodated within the lands currently reserved to Lend Lease Limited, under its 99-year leasehold agreement with the Government,” he said.

“That is, that a hotel could not be accommodated within the public lands of Barangaroo Central.

“In other words, were a major hotel to be contemplated within the project site – this would mean within the southern periphery of Barangaroo – the area currently allocated to Lend Lease. And any such development could only materialise from a negotiated agreement with Lend Lease

“I told Mr Packer I believed no major hotel should be built north of the Lend Lease perimeter, which is outside the lands of Barangaroo Central. And to be clear about it; that no major hotel should be built in what is reserved as public open space.

“He said he respected that but to the extent that Lend Lease failed to reach agreement with him, he was commercially bound to press for an alternative site which may devolve to those lands, or part of those lands, earmarked for theatres and entertainment within the Barangaroo Central precinct,” he said.

View from the top: Crown's proposed development at Barangaroo

Yesterday, Lend Lease Group’s Head of Development, David Hutton, said it would be premature to comment on operators of a hotel before a site for such a building had been agreed upon – which as it stands is still over the water on Sydney Harbour.

“A number of operators have expressed strong interest in the hotel but it is premature to engage in detail with potential operators until the hotel’s location is finalised,” said.

“Lend Lease’s focus is on working closely with the Barangaroo Delivery Authority on assessing a new hotel location as requested by the Premier to ensure Barangaroo will produce a world class outcome for Sydney,” he said.

Late last year, O’Farrell asked Lend Lease to scrap plans for a hotel to be located over the water, after significant opposition to the project, and be located amongst office buildings on the site.

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