Public park near Crown Sydney won’t open for five years 

By Noah Taylor Updated
ILGA chair talks up Crown’s progress in its bid to open Barangaroo casino

A public park associated with Crown’s Barangaroo casino won’t be completed for another five years, despite claims it would be finished before Crown opened its waterfront tower.

The Brisbane Times reports that Crown said it will open its $2.2 billion casino on December 14, before a probity inquiry hands down its findings in February into whether the ASX-listed company should keep its NSW casino licence.

When the company’s 75-storey tower at Barangaroo South was approved by the former Planning Assessment Commission in 2016, the completion of Hickson Park to the east of the casino was a condition of approval.

The NSW government planned Hickson Park as a one-hectare “green link”, similar to New York City’s Bryant Park, connecting the central business district to the retail and dining precinct at Barangaroo South.

Infrastructure NSW is pushing to relay completion of part of the park to prevent it having to be ripped up during construction of the Central Barangaroo precinct, which is not expected to be finished until 2025.

Crown has made an application to amend its approval conditions to allow for Hickson Park to be finished in stages over the next five years “to align with the current status of the development of the surrounding buildings.”

“The modifications to Hickson Park relate only to its staging, are required to maintain public safety and to avoid works that may subsequently need to be demolished or rebuilt in the future as a consequence of the delivery of buildings at Barangaroo South and Central Barangaroo,” said a report prepared by consultants Ethos Urban.

That report, filed with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, concedes the staged delivery will temporarily reduce the amount of open space at Barangaroo when the building opens.

“However, substantive completion of the public domain…will be delivered through the construction of the foreshore promenade, Waterman’s Cove and public pier, together with the majority of Hickson Park south of Barton Street.”

A spokesman for Infrastructure NSW said it was seeking to delay the development of the park on one side of Barton Street because, if it was built, it was likely it would have to be demolished.

“By the end of this year, prior to Crown Sydney Hotel’s opening, the community and visitors to Barangaroo will be able to enjoy more than 7000 square metres of new parkland, known as Hickson Park.”

The inquiry into Crown has cast doubt over the casino’s opening date and future operating conditions.

The commissioner leading the inquiry, Patricia Bergin, questioned the “good sense” of the company opening its gaming facilities before she hands down her findings.

The promenade in front of Crown’s tower and Waterman’s Cove were opened to the public this month.

The state government has emphasised more than half of Barangaroo will be public open space when the project is finished.

Shareholder seeks to up Crown stake 

As the NSW inquiry into Crown Resorts’ suitability to hold a casino licence in the state nears its conclusion, a shareholder has applied to increase its holding.

The Brisbane Times reported in October that Crown’s 10 per cent shareholder, Blackstone, has just applied to the NSW regulator to increase its stake, which it acquired from Lawrence Ho’s Melco in April.

The group appears to be positioning itself to have an option to take a controlling interest in the casino group, the report said.

The possibility of James Packer needing to significantly sell down his 36 per cent stake in Crown could leave the share register of Crown potentially in limbo and unstable.

While Blackstone is recognised as a private equity player, it is also well known for its real estate assets, splitting the property assets of companies, including casinos, and retaining or selling the operating business.

If its application to increase its stake in Crown is part of a larger play, it is plausible it could also pursue fellow casino operator The Star down the track in order to bulk up the real estate trust.

Such an outcome would lead to a massive consolidation of casinos in Australia.

It’s early days yet, but it’s fair to assume that the positioning has begun.

And it’s also worth noting that investing in casinos in Australia is a long game.

It can take years to receive probity approvals but for a party considered an investor rather than an operator the process is generally faster and less arduous.

At this point, a major factor in understanding the value of Crown is what an investor would be buying.

The NSW inquiry is delving into Crown, Packer, its board and management.

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