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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The 2012 Vision: Part 2- South Bank Parklands

The official Twitter hashtag for this post is #2012visionSBP
Welcome, to part two of the 2012 Vision, the first part being Daylight Saving, this second part is talking about the official opening and evolution, of South Bank Parklands, on this day, June 20, back in 1992.
Brisbane residents who have moved to Queensland since Expo 88, probably know very little about old South Brisbane, and need to realize that the area had a strong community feel, prior to Expo 88. However, the vision, that eventually gave birth to South Bank itself began 40 years ago, when the first plans were layed out for the relocation of the Queensland Art Gallery to South Brisbane. Soon after, the concept was expanded to include new homes for the Queensland Museum, and the Queensland State Library as well as a high quality performing arts complex, thus becoming, the Queensland Cultural Centre, in the process beginning the changes in South Brisbane, that culminated with Expo 88.

The Cultural Centre takes shape:
On this day thirty years ago, the first stage of the Queensland Cultural Centre opened, with the Queensland Art Gallery finally in a purpose built facility for the first time in it's history. South Brisbane was beginning to make it's change, from a working class area (most likely signified, by the 1982 Commonwealth Games marathon, starting/finishing on Stanley  St, beside the river), progressively, resumptions were made for the QLD Museum along with what was to become QPAC and the QLD State Library. However, another big project would soon arrive in South Brisbane, one which would entail the resumption of almost a entire suburb, and would change the face of South Brisbane forever.

The road to Expo 88:
People in this day and age, will look back on Expo 88, and think that it was a snap, to put together. It was anything but, as Brisbane people slowly saw South Brisbane disappear (except for a few buildings) throughout 1985-86, showing some fear for historic buildings (while the Plough Inn, Ship Inn, Allgas House, South Brisbane Library and historic home Collins Place (near Vulture St Station) were kept, and South Brisbane Station was restored other buildings, weren't), especially as the city hadn't really grasped the Expo vision at that stage. But, as soon as the iconic sunsails went up, many doubters had been become believers in Expo, and the next big question was, not what Expo 88 would do for Brisbane, but what shape, the Expo site would be taking, as Brisbane headed for the 21st century.

Rivercity 2000. What could have been?
The original proposal for the South Bank area, after Expo was to radically transform it, even more than Expo 88 did. Rivercity 2000, had strong backing, from Kern Corporation (who developed the Wintergarden shopping complex, as the first major shopping centre in the Queen St Mall), F.A.Pidgeon and Son (who built the Brisbane Transit Centre, and at the time was working on Waterfront Place/Eagle St Pier and the Oasis development on the Gold Coast), a unnamed superannuation fund, and Conrad Hotels (who helped develop Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast, which would soon be connected with the Pidgeon "Oasis" project via a monorail). What the complex entailed, was a world trade centre, two hotels, retail, office and commercial accommodation, some residential, and a convention/exhibition centre, as well as provision for a casino, when the time came. People, however became lukewarm to the Rivercity 2000 proposal, when consultation happened after Expo, especially, as they thought that the South Bank did not need to be as intensly developed as Brisbane's CBD. The government bowed to the people's demands, and the Rivercity 2000 proposal, was scrapped in early 1989. What happened next, set the seed for the next phase of South Bank's life.

The birth of South Bank Corporation.
In May 1989, the QLD Government, created a new, state-owned corporation, out of the former Expo 88 Authority, to move the South Bank project forward, out of the rut that the Rivercity 2000 scrapping had caused. South Bank Corporation, was given full planning control for the precinct, and to go and shape a master plan. One of the early decisions made, was to remove the casino plans from the South Bank project (ever the decisive issue, the idea of building a legal casino in Brisbane was tossed up a few times afterward, finally culminating with the conversion of the heritage-listed Treasury Building into a permanent legal casino in 1995 (while Sydney/Melbourne were still awaiting permanent casino sites, with both Crown Casino in Melbourne and the Sydney Harbour Casino (which became Star City upon moving into their permanent home in 1997, and then, "The Star" in 2011 after renovations) still in temporary facilities: while there is a major debate today, about Brisbane gaining a second casino, alongside the Gold Coast looking at planning for a second casino) Another decision was, to put the South Bank project to a design contest, won by the firm "Media 5 Australia", whose main proposal elements included keeping the things people wanted kept from Expo (the Piazza entertainment venue, the Boardwalk eatery, and a Expo exhibit, the people of Brisbane saved: the Nepalese Pagoda) along with the preservation of the heritage buildings retained for Expo, development of dining and entertainment facilities, and the development of a large swimming lagoon, designed to be Brisbane's "city beach", as well as absorbing the former World Expo Park amusement park site for a future convention centre. By the start of 1991, the South Bank site was abuzz, with work going on to build the beach, as well as other parts of the project, like the canals that shaped what became known as "South Bank Mark 1".

South Bank Mark 1: Celebrations, Conventions, Conservatorium.
On this day, 20 years ago, South Bank Parklands opened, with lots of fanfare and national television coverage, as well as plenty of visitors. Television commercials promoted the newly opened parklands, throughout those early days, and the two other main attractions of the initial stage, were the Gondwana Wildlife Sanctuary and the South Bank Butterfly House, both showing off Queensland's fauna, in a way that hasn't been shown since both venues closed in 1998, prior to Mark 2 works beginning. The canals were also a hit, and by the time the first birthday of the parklands clicked over, in June 1993, 6.3million people had visited South Bank, no mean feat, as Queensland's population had only just passed three million people in 1992. The success of Expo, was duplicated with South Bank, in the process, becoming (along with the artificial beach) recognisable icon of Brisbane itself, something the city had lacked. During that initial period, some other projects were commenced, including the Park Avenue apartments (what turned out to be the only residential building built, as part of Mark 1), the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Rydges South Bank hotel and the last major project built as part of the Mark 1 plan: the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. However, when QLD exited the political turmoil that the 1995 state election caused, in early 1996, an new QLD government decided to create a new master plan, to redefine South Bank so soon after it's opening.
Park Avenue apartments in 2012: now overlooking
River Quay 
restaurants, instead of the Boardwalk from Expo 88.

South Bank Mark 2: From canals, to a Arbour and beyond.
1997, sounded the release of the second South Bank masterplan, which recommended things like, restoring the traditional South Brisbane street grid, moving the bus corridor, from Grey St to the rail corridor, that would have been covered over by Mark 1 development, along with improving accessibility, with underground parking, and re-aligning Grey St back to it's pre Expo route as well as removing the canals, replacing them with a leafy arbour. Another project added to the new masterplan later on, was a new pedestrian crossing of the Brisbane River from the Queensland Maritime Museum, to QUT Gardens Point. However, it was another change of government, that would see the first phase of the new master plan begin to take shape, beginning with the Grey St realignment, and the canals being removed. By early 1999, the first buildings had been erected, including headquarters for Thiess (who had a very strong link with the South Bank area's transformation, for they were the builders of the sunsails at Expo 88), a new cinema complex, including a Imax theatre (that briefly shut in 2003, and was converted into a standard cinema when new owners bought the complex, still possessing the largest cinema screen in the Brisbane CBD), a new home for South Bank Corporation itself, and eventually, the Arbour opened in late 1999 (and literally grew into an icon, alongside the artificial beach), just in time for the millennium celebrations. However, the new crossing of the Brisbane River would take until 2001 to complete, while the South East Busway's first phase (from Cultural Centre "station" to Woolloongabba), opened in time for the Sydney Olympics soccer preliminaries held at the Gabba in September 2000, while South Bank itself was a live site for the duration of the games.

2001: South Bank shows the world... again.
The year 2001 was a year of achievement, as the construction work finished, on the pedestrian bridge to QUT, along with the South Bank precinct being in the worlds eyes, twice: with the Goodwill Games in late August, and a planned Commonwealth leaders meeting for October, where the Queen (who had last visited Brisbane, in 1988 for Expo 88's opening) was going to open the new pedestrian bridge from South Bank to QUT. The Goodwill Games, of which, South Bank was the main hub: hosting half of the sports, and hosting a entertainment program, that accompanied the sports, including the now, iconic Riverfestival, folded in. As the Goodwill Games closed on September 9, Brisbane was preparing to host CHOGM 2001 (security in Brisbane in general, had been stepped up as a result)... until the events of September 11, caused a postponement of CHOGM, and relocation of the meeting , to Coolum (and the postponement of the planned QLD royal visit) in early 2002. However, the opening of the new pedestrian bridge went as planned, instead of the Queen opening the bridge, Peter Beattie, then QLD premier opened it, and read the name out, that had won a public naming contest for the bridge: "The Goodwill Bridge", and it became a memento, of a year that had changed Brisbane again and had changed the world in general.

A decade's progress: South Bank in the noughties.
On this date, ten years ago, South Bank was again in the midst of construction: with the "Little Stanley St" precinct, as well as the Grey St Boulevard beginning to take shape, along with a huge 10th birthday celebration. Also at this time, the former Expo 88 House was transformed into a large scale campus for Griffith University. Another project that took most of the last decade to build, was the "Millennium Arts Project", which consisted of a new entrance for both, the QLD Museum, and a relocated Sciencentre (previously in Brisbane's CBD, next to the QLD Executive Building), a rebuilt State Library, and a new gallery, that put Brisbane on the world art map: The QLD Gallery of Modern Art. After Millennium Arts works wrapped up in 2006, QPAC would undergo a refurbishment in 2008, and by 2010: plans were in place for a full QLD Museum refurbishment. Also at the end of the decade, work also began on the new home for the ABC in Brisbane, and a major expansion of the Brisbane Convention Centre. But, history would come to repeat itself, for the South Bank precinct, in 2011...

South Bank underwater... 1893/1974/2011.
But, there have been times, when South Brisbane, has seen disaster. Looking back nearly 120 years, there was the great flood of 1893, which saw what was a thriving business centre, decimated, along with the literal severing of the original Victoria Bridge, which saw Brisbane resort to ferries (as it was prior to the original Victoria Bridge's opening in 1874) to access South Brisbane, for four years, while the second Victoria Bridge was built. The next serious flood to affect South Brisbane, was in 1974, where the entire South Brisbane area, again was swamped, but to not the extent of 1893. Brisbane fell however into a false sense of security, after the construction of Wivenhoe Dam... until 2011. The flood of 2011, is still fresh in peoples minds, and caused a major impact on South Bank: while it didn't end up on the doorsteps of the Plough Inn, and Allgas House, it saw the many underground parking areas, built as part of the buildings erected after the second master plan was approved, along with the QLD Cultural Centre and Brisbane Convention Centre carparks, flooded, along with floodwater invading the iconic Streets Beach, Nepalese Pagoda, as well as the Wheel of Brisbane and the ABC construction site: (putting work back months, including a major redesign). But, much like Brisbane rebounded: South Bank rebounded after the flood of 2011, culminating, 1 year ago: in the reopening of Streets Beach, after the longest closure in it's history (over six months), to repair the damage caused.
But, unlike Streets Beach, this set of riverside restaurants (which had been there since 1992) have still not reopened eighteen months after the 2011 flood.

20 Years of South Bank: where to next?
As we look back, on it's 20th birthday: South Bank has undergone many great changes. Earlier this year we saw the opening of the Grey St extension to the Brisbane Convention Centre, and the ABC's new home: creating a new icon, to add to Streets Beach and the Arbour. 
The new ABC QLD HQ, destined to become the third permanent icon of South Bank,
which was officially opened on April 19 2012.

But one plan for change that was aborted, due to electoral reasons, was a much vaunted "South Bank 2", which would have extended the precinct onto the Milton reach of the Brisbane River, and was promised by Labor to try and win the 2012 state election. Unfortunately, Labor didn't win, but it leaves a very sticky issue, that was raised with the South Bank 2 plans: which had another purpose, extending the lifespan of the South Bank Corporation, as the redevelopment, of the former Expo 88 site will soon end, with the upcoming Southpoint project, at the far southwestern end of the precinct (incorporating Collins Place, a heritage listed home, and a redevelopment of South Bank railway station). Already, the new QLD government under the leadership of Campbell Newman (a former Brisbane lord mayor), has laid out plans for the planning powers of South Bank Corporation, to be handed back to Brisbane City Council, along with the maintenance, and upkeep. What this means, is that South Bank, will soon lose the guiding hand, that the QLD government, has given to the area, since Brisbane was awarded Expo 88 nearly 30 years ago. But what of any extension of the precinct: like South Bank 2 would have been, if there is no guiding hand? It harks back to what was said after Expo, as South Bank 2, much like the original project, need not be as intensly developed as the north bank: especially the Milton riverside, opposite the South Bank 2 project area, around the Go-Between Bridge (once home to a Arnotts factory, and a bus depot, whose developement density soared in the last twenty years) that is something that needs to be raised. The QLD Government also needs to seriously look at beginning the task of removing the heavy industry on the South Bank 2 area (thus finishing the job that Expo started: removing large scale heavy industries from Brisbane's inner-city riverside), along with helping Parmalat look at future relocation out of the inner-city. But, as we close this chapter, we must remember South Bank's future, is much like it's past: it needs to be shaped by the people, not development.

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