When the Hawke-Keating Government in 1991 announced the Better Cities program to revitalise previously run down (mostly inner city) areas, it was the New Farm–Teneriffe area identified by then Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorley as one ripe for renewal. He appointed Trevor Reddacliff to head an Urban Renewal Taskforce and a 20 plus year program of urban revitalisation was set in motion. The transformation of the area from dilapidated industrial sites to high end housing is worth exploring because the lessons about transforming land uses are as relevant today as they were then. With the New Farm Powerhouse marking its 21st birthday since being transformed from industrial ruin to vibrant cultural centre, this is as good a time as any to do so.
Figure 1 The CSR Refinery, New Farm.
First, let’s remind ourselves of what the New Farm peninsula was like when this all began in the mid 1990s. There was a CSR industrial refinery at Lamington Street. First built in the late 1800s for its river access (the river being the best mode of transport for bulk goods) it operated on this site until 1998, when the Urban Renewal Taskforce successfully convinced CSR to relocate operations. Former Lord Mayor Jim Soorley tells the story that he threatened to blockade the access roads to the site if CSR didn’t see the light. CSR ultimately sold the site to Mirvac, who initially proposed a series of 20 storey residential towers. I can recall that period well, because as a newly minted Executive Director for the Property Council, it was my job to go into bat for Mirvac. That meant taking a very cranky call one day from the then Lord Mayor, who thought such a proposal was akin to vandalism. He - and Trevor from the Urban Renewal Taskforce – have been proven right of course. Mirvac adjusted their scheme which became a much more sympathetic project ‘Cutters Landing.’ Parts of the old refinery building were converted into loft apartments and other elements recycled as public spaces.
Figure 2 The New Farm Powerhouse in its power generation days
Next door was the old New Farm powerhouse. This once generated electricity for Brisbane’s tram network and other uses. It was abandoned and dilapidated, having been decommissioned since 1971. Broken glass windows and graffiti typified the site, which was favoured by the homeless, street kids and drug addicts. The Council at one stage planned to demolish the buildings and turn the area into parkland. But the Council instead pushed ahead with an adaptive re-use plan which saw part of the structure (including the turbine rooms) converted into a public arts and theatre space. That first stage was opened in 2000. Once again, a former industrial use – rendered redundant by the inevitable passage of time – found a new and more relevant life. A more upmarket one too.
Figure 3 The wool stores and bulk stores of Teneriffe with ships at dock
Then there was almost the entire Teneriffe waterfront area, which was typified by disused wool stores and bulk grain facilities. They had been located here in the early 1900s for the river access, so that barges and ships could dock and load or unload goods. The river performed an industrial use, and buildings located near it for that very reason. But by the 1990s, we had highways and freight rail and a new port at the mouth of the river, so like many land uses, its original purpose became redundant. Instead of storing wool or grain, many of these buildings were being used as low-end retail markets or cheap storage space, until they too began a transformation into loft style apartments.
Figure 4 The Coca Cola factory in James Street, New Farm
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