There is no building in Sydney that has polarised opinions more than the Sirius apartments on Circular Quay – unless you include the Opera House, its architectural antithesis across the bay.
After years of controversy, plans have been revealed and expressions of interest sought in what will be a revolutionary revamp of the former housing commission apartment block.
You can read more about it the multi-million-dollar project here – and see a slideshow of the proposed revanp – but, naturally we also have our two cents worth here in the pod.
After that, we talk about the developer who was the first to fall foul of the Sunset Clawbacks law – which we personally helped bring into being – and who has now gone bust (pause to be mentally carried shoulder-high around the room). You can read more about that HERE.
Also from Chicago, there’s this amazing video about how a cat has survived a leap from the fifth floor of a burning building.
As we say on the pod, don’t mess with Chicago cats …
TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Okay, we have a lot to get through today. We’ve got the sale of the Sirius; we’ve got a developer who has gone out of business. We’ve got cats!
So, we’d better get on with it. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
So, there seems to be a bit of a stoush about the Sirius building.
The Sirius building, I think, has been in the news for a long, long time. I mean, they’ve been lots and lots of fights over it in the past, over the heritage listing of the building. Lots of people love the building, because I think it’s a fantastic example, of 70s brutalist architecture.
So, for anybody who’s not familiar with it (and we’ll probably put a picture on the website), but if you’re not familiar with it, it’s the one as you’re coming over the Harbour Bridge towards the city from North Sydney, it’s on the left, and it looks like a stack of Lego blocks.
I guess it does! It’s on Cumberland Street and it just can’t be missed, really. As I said, some people think it’s a great icon of brutalist architecture, which is increasingly rare these days.
Well, for the good reason that they keep knocking it down because it’s ugly.
Well, other people will think that the building is a really ugly eyesore. A lot of people thought the building should be demolished. Other people felt that the building should be retained, because it was built for public housing. About 200 people originally and they felt that they should be allowed to stay there.
With the best views of the Opera House you’ll ever see.
Yes and other people felt that, well, they just didn’t deserve it really, I suppose and that rich people are the ones who could afford to live in such a fabulous harborside location and should be allowed to do so.
Is it as polarizing and divisive? Is it a case of maybe saying this was terrific that for 40 years, Housing Commission tenants could live there with these fabulous views, but Sydney has moved on. The money from the sale of that building (which is allegedly going to be put into public housing), can be put to much better use and house more people.
But where is that public housing? It’s probably way out in the suburbs and personally, I think it’s wrong to keep cities just for rich people. Cities should have a really vibrant, demographic; a huge diversity. That’s what makes it culturally rich and if it just ends up (the inner city), just for wealthy people, I mean, how dull is that?
Well, we know exactly what’s going to happen. People who can afford it are going to buy these apartments, and they’re immediately going to put them on Airbnb, so it won’t even be rich Sydneysiders who are living in them. It will be people (well, if they ever allow people to come from overseas, again), it will be people who can afford to pay five to six hundred dollars a night.
Well, not necessarily, because if the high net-worth individuals buy them, they might not necessarily have to rent them out because they’ve got loads of money.
So that will be their city abode; they’ll probably have a farm down in the Southern Highlands, or, a summer house up in the Northern Beaches or another holiday home up in Queensland. But, they’ll only be occupied maybe once every few weeks, when they come into town. Because they can work remotely.
The rest of the time it will be Airbnb.
The rest of time it’ll be empty.
Oh, well that’s not a step forward really, is it?
No, not at all, because they won’t need to let them out on Airbnb. Why would you, if you had loads of money?
I just worry about this argument that people are saying stems from an ad that was run in (I think), the Finn review, saying ‘at last, luxury that the building deserves with its location.’ People are saying ‘what, the people who lived there before didn’t deserve luxury?’
That’s the clear implication, isn’t it really?
Yeah, then you look back at the history of it, it was built there so that Housing Commission people could live somewhere…
Relocated from the Rocks, as part of the Green Bans.
So, they built these very quickly; they had to build it very quickly and I remember that the architect wanted it to be white concrete. The government said ‘no, don’t’, because that involves putting a chemical into the concrete to give it the whiteness. The government said ‘no, no, no, that’s too expensive’. It was only marginally more expensive. So you’re really looking at a building, which was functional; purely functional, and I’m sure it was fine inside. I’m sure it was okay, but it was not built to be luxurious. Now, it has been sold to a developer who is planning to make it very luxurious. Do you know how much they paid for it? For the whole building?
A hundred and fifty million dollars. You know, if I’d had that money lying around, I might have bought that building.
That’s right; they’re gonna make a hell of a profit.
Oh, it’s gonna be a massive, massive profit. That, to me, is where the government really dropped the ball, because they could probably have got twice the amount easily and built twice the number of Housing Commission houses for ordinary families that they claim that they’re going to do, because you just came across a story about an apartment somewhere in Sydney that sold for what was it? 60 million?
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, it’s interesting, because the piece was all about the prestige property market, and how well prestige apartments are doing now. Because there’s lots and lots of new developments. Your Opera Residences. You’ve got Barangaroo; the LendLease buildings over at the new Darling Quarter. There’s all these really fabulous luxury, new apartments and they’re selling for huge sums. This is going to be yet another one, really. You think geez, people on middle incomes, even if they weren’t low incomes, everybody’s being squeezed out of the city. It’s such a shame. We had Millers Point being sold off.
Yeah. Well, that went straight into Airbnb.
That’s right, it did.
That’s a great location for tourists and people got around the laws. They said they were moving in; they were buying up there to move in and then suddenly it appears on Airbnb. Different rooms in the same house, but the people weren’t living there.
That’s right and they were meant to be single houses and suddenly they became multiple occupancy dwellings, so that really wasn’t fair. Lots of people said ‘oh, we’re just doing that in the meantime, before we start to renovate’. I went to one of the houses down there that had been completely renovated and it was just stunning. I’ve never been into such an opulent house in my life before. So the Housing Commission people were chucked out of Miller’s Point. They were chucked out of Sirius. Now, they’re probably mostly around Blacktown, or maybe further out, and it’s just not right. I don’t think, personally.
I’m gonna do the headline that nobody’s done yet; ‘You cannot be Sirius.’
Daily Telegraph will do that.
They probably will.
Maybe not now that they’ve heard me. So, $60 million for one apartment… Two and a half times that could have got you the whole Sirius building, looking at the Opera House. That’s bad, bad business. You’d expect the coalition, the Liberals, even if they’re not good at anything else, there’ll be pretty good at business.
They haven’t really proved that, very much, have they? I mean, when you look at land out at the new Sydney Airport, the new Western Sydney Airport.
Well, they do good business for some people, but not for us, the taxpayers.
I just don’t want Sydney to become a place where it’s just a rich person’s…
Thank you very much! Playground. You know, I want everybody to be able to enjoy Sydney and not just on a day trip into the city I want people to kind of mix and mingle and everybody have a place here, really.
But here in Kings Cross, we have seen how things evolve. Like, when we first moved in here, about 30 years ago, it was a bit rough and ready. And all the stories; the Underbelly stuff and all that and the streets and the gangsters and all that stuff. But that was based on 20 to 30 years before when, yes, there were criminals and gangs, but there were also artists and musicians and actors and that real bohemian thing. So-called gangsters quite liked the bohemian thing. It was different and a bit wild and the bohemians didn’t mind the gangsters, because they provided the entertainment and the clubs and things like that. Then it evolved and it all got a bit seedy and now it has been gentrified beyond recognition. In some ways, it’s really good. You’ve got lots of nice little bars that we occasionally go to, like Dulcie’s and Dean’s; they’re great places. You’ve got great restaurants like Cafe Roma (one of our favorites), and House and Frankie’s coffee bar; it’s terrific. But then, you’ve got this building that goes up, that looks a bit from one end like a pepperpot, which is fine. You know, it used to be a hotel, and now it’s apartments. But then the people in the apartments started complaining about what’s going on in the Cross.
That’s right. That’s the Omnia building, I think you’re talking about, which was sold for the highest rate per square meter in the whole of Kings Cross/Potts Point.
Yeah. Although, that might be rivalled later on. There’s a new building going up, Monroe, which is the redevelopment of the Country Women’s Association. That might be real luxury stuff as well. The Omni people were complaining, first of all, about the King’s Cross Hotel, which predated them by a long, long way.
By about 100 years.
Some noise from there, which, you know, was a bit crazy. Then I think you pointed out the other day about somebody complaining about the King’s Cross sign.
The Coca Cola sign. Yeah, somebody moves in and goes ‘there’s a sign outside my window, flashing on and off all night; can you do something about it?’
And they wanted it turned off at 10 o’clock, didn’t they? They felt it was just not fair. You kind of think, well, didn’t they actually look at the area they were going to live in?
But when you think about it, and all the times you’ve rented or bought property, how often have you gone to those properties at night?
So, you would have just gone there during the day…
The signs there, but it’s not intrusive at all, because of daylight, but at night, it just dominates the whole landscape.
Imagine you’re sitting there and suddenly everything’s red. Yeah, I can understand that, but that has been there for a long time and you just get blinds at night.
And I think it’s a good example of why, when you’re thinking of buying or renting, you should go around at night. You might not get into the apartment or the house, but you can walk around the area and get a feel for what it’s like out on the street, because that will affect your lifestyle and you cannot switch off the Coca Cola sign.
Maybe, we’ll get the new residents of the Sirius complaining about when they light up the sails of the Opera House.
‘It’s dazzling in my lounge room’, they’ll be saying.
Yeah, or maybe New Year’s Eve, those fireworks, they’re so noisy!
But do you know, they were gonna put balconies on the front, weren’t they?
Yeah, that was one of the plans they were talking about, before they got Heritage listing. I don’t know whether they’d be able to put balconies on the front.
Probably not. It is, as we’ve said, brutalist, and brutalist architecture is plain and simple and functional. It doesn’t get much more plain and simple and functional. But I actually think the Sirius building; you know, you’ve got the beautiful curves of the Harbour Bridge, you’ve got the beautiful curves of the Opera House, and you’ve got this Lego block, apartment block there and I think it’s great. I actually like it. I wish it wasn’t so gray. It does look a bit East German, in that regard.
Maybe it’ll be great if they do actually paint it then, in the end. The same white as they wanted to in the beginning.
Rainbow stripes would be very modern. Too much, Jimmy, too much. Okay, when we come back, we’re gonna talk about a developer who, a couple of years ago, fell foul of a new law (which we kind of got passed, in our own little way). That’s after this.
And we’re back. A couple of years ago, Sue, we (especially you), were involved in a political campaign, kind of.
Well, we wrote an awful lot of stories; a series of stories, about apartment buyers who are buying off the plan and suddenly, the developers stopped work or didn’t do very much work on their buildings, so that they ran past the sunset date. Then, the developer was entitled to tear up the contract, rescind the contracts, refund people their 10% deposit, and then resell the apartments to someone else.
And this was when apartment prices were just going through the roof.
That’s right, the market was really rising, so there was a huge motivation for developers not to hurry the work up, but to maybe just take their time. And then when the work went over the sunset clause date, they were then entitled to resell the apartments at a much higher rate to other people.
And you know, it’s all very well to give people back their deposit, but that deposit was put in two years previously.
Yes and sometimes even longer.
And was worth much less in terms of its buying power.
That’s right and all those people had put everything on hold, when they could have been buying other apartments instead and suddenly, they’re left with this little bit of money back again and they’ve got to enter the market again. Everything has gone up by 10% or 15% at the time, so it seemed really unfair and obviously, some developers took took a bit longer to do the work and they had good reason.
But some of them deliberately told their workers ‘just don’t turn up.’
That’s right and we did a series of stories about it. And I think you ended up talking to Victor Dominello.
Yeah I was in his office, because he was Fair Trading minister then and we were talking about strata and stuff. He said, foolishly ‘is there anything else going on I should know about?’ And I said, ‘have you been reading Sue Williams’ stuff about the sunset clawbacks’ (we coined that phrase). And he said, ‘no, what’s this about?’ So I explained it to him, very briefly and he said ‘that’s disgraceful.’ He immediately said, ‘no, that’s just not right. That can’t be allowed to happen’. And then he changed the law.
Yeah, just like that. It happened so quickly, didn’t it?
Well, what he did was he changed the regulation, which is much easier to do than changing the law. They weren’t doing away with sunset clauses, but they made it that the developer then had to go to the Supreme Court and prove that there were other issues that had caused this; it was a bonafide delay in the process or whatever. So, it puts the onus back on the developers to prove that this was a genuine delay, and they were as much victims as the prospective purchasers were.
That’s right and then in 2018, a developer of a building in Surry Hills took ages and ages to do the building, and then wrote to all its buyers and said, ‘I’m so sorry; because we’ve gone past the sunset dates, you’re no longer entitled to your apartments, but if you’d like to pay 15% more, you can still keep them, or otherwise, we’re going to cancel the contracts.’
That guy said; it was either in court or he was quoted in another story, saying, ‘well, this was always my intention,’ because he’d bought it off the original developer with the intention of running over the sunset, canceling the contracts and reselling,
But a couple of the buyers refused to tear up the contracts and so then they had to go to the Supreme Court, where the developer, a company called Parker Logan, a developer/builder, then tried to prove that they were entitled to rescind the contracts and they failed. And so those buyers were allowed to keep their apartments; they had to finish off off the work and all of the court costs were awarded against them.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but hadn’t the CEO of the developers moved into the apartment?
That’s right. Yeah, he had actually moved into the apartment that was owned by the two guys who were refusing to rescind the contract. So, it was kind of to add insult to injury. He had actually moved into their apartment; the one they had the contract for.
And said it was unfinished.
Incredible, really. I think everybody hailed that as a real landmark judgment; as a real fantastic step forward in the protection of the rise of off-the-plan buyers.
But, this company has come up in the news again.
Yeah, they’ve never been far from the news, really. They were involved in a really controversial building in Edgecliff. Lots of neighbors were up in arms over that building, because it was going higher than it was intended to. And then they were involved in another building at Cooper Park in Bellevue Hill. They were building on an old kind of bowling green on a very tight, little site. They were building (I think), 27 luxury apartments and some townhouses, and they wanted to go higher and higher, and they kept putting in applications. Neighbors kept objecting. They went to the Land and Environment Court and they lost. You know, this kind of; it just went on and on and on. In the end, they said, ‘well, okay, if you allow us to go higher, we’ll build some affordable housing.’ So, there was this kind of trade-off and eventually, a local council, Woollahra, agreed to it, even though everybody in the neighborhood was objecting to it. So, it had a terrible stink about the place. I think people kept accusing them of weaponizing affordable housing, because they were just using using the affordable housing.
They seemed to be.
Allegedly, yes, for their own means. Two things to this; the Building Commissioner, David Chandler, went into the site in December and says he discovered some major defects in fire safety, in structural concrete, stuff in the basement and a problem with some of the waterproofing. He has now brought forward a prohibition order. He has canceled the strata plan registration and he’s refusing for an occupation certificate to be issued until the works rectified. So, there’s that. That site is now operated by Maryland Developments, which he says is a company related to Parker Logan and at the same time, Parker Logan, last week, has gone into voluntary administration.
They are very unlucky, this company. I mean, we have to assume that none of this is done deliberately.
Of course not.
You should never ascribe to malice, anything that can just as easily be explained by stupidity.
Yeah, they’ve been very unlucky in their business dealings and now they’ve gone bust.
They’ve got a creditors meeting next week. I think, so farewell, Parker Logan. But you know, companies can rise again from the ashes, as we know so well. Although, we’ve done an ASIC search on the CEO of the company; he seems to be a permanent resident in Israel now. He’s not even in Sydney anymore.
He’d be in even more trouble, if he’s in Israel right now.
Goes from hotspot to hotspot.
Goodness, well, there you go. Parker Logan, I wonder if there ever was anybody called Parker or Logan? People make up these fantastic-sounding names. As soon as I hear Parker, I think of two things… I think of Parker pens and Lady Penelope’s chauffeur from Thunderbirds.
Exactly. Well maybe, he was a big fan of both.
Right. Well, that’s a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. When we come back, we are going to talk about cats in Chicago.
Oh, okay. Hopefully, not the musical by Andrew Llyod Webber.
Well, you you saw that in Chicago?
No, I saw the Lion King in Chicago.
Well, it’s still felines. When we come back, we’ll be talking about non-musical cats in Chicago. That’s after this.
And we are back. Recently, there’s been a bit of discussion on the Flat Chat forum, about people feeding cats around apartment buildings.
Like feral cats?
Well, it’s hard to tell. It’s got a little bit out of hand; a bit heated. And the last post was the Flat-chatter saying there was a gang of people who were organized on a Facebook page that were doing all this feeding of feral cats around various localities and they were on a roster or something, which I gotta say, doesn’t really bother me that much.
In fact, I think I know one of the organizers of that.
Of the cat feeding?
I do actually, yes, I do.
Oh, they should read all the terrible things that are being said about them on the Flat Chat Forum. I defend the cats; I am a defender of cats. It was quite interesting, because the theory that is propounded by this anti-cat person is if you feed the cats, they don’t kill rats and mice, and they just breed and they bring disease and stuff like that. And I have said ‘you just don’t like cats. Let’s own up, you just don’t like cats.’
But if this is the same cat-feeding gang as a person I know who has organized a gang doing that, they feed the cats, and then they manage to win their trust, and then they capture them. They take them to the vets, they get them desexed and then they let them go again, because they’re kind of a bit feral so they wouldn’t be able to domesticate them.
Chicago had a problem with cats and a problem with rats. Apparently, Chicago is one of the rattiest cities in the whole of the Western world. So, the Cat Defense League in Chicago, has captured all these feral cats, which were basically doomed to either spend the rest of their lives in cages or be euthanized. They’ve desexed them, they’ve vaccinated them. They’ve microchipped them and they put them back out; three cats at every building that has a rat problem. 1000 feral cats have been released back onto the street. They don’t care if they’re getting fed, because they say, ‘well, yeah, the cats will catch rats and kill them and eat them, but the fact that there are cats around makes the rats go away.’
Where do they go?
I don’t think they care. I think they hope they go to Boston or New York. The thing is that once the rats are threatened and they’re not able to get out and feed, then their population will diminish as well.
That’s a classic. It’s great. It’s much better than cane toads, that we do here.
Then there was another amazing story about a cat in Chicago. It was in a building that was on fire.
I saw that too!
It jumped out of the window, five stories up, hit the ground, bounced and then ran off. See, Chicago cats; you don’t mess with Chicago cats.
They’re super cats, aren’t they?
They are, yeah. So, I guess that cat’s probably organizing his own gang now. All his mates have turned up, chipped, vaccinated, desexed.
We’ve got big mice plague.
I was thinking about that.
Yeah, we’ve got it in, I think it’s in Victoria and in country New South Wales. I think it’s in Queensland as well. It’s kind of going through all the states. I wonder if we could get cats.
Get some Chicago cats.
Because, they’re putting out poison for the mice, but then other animals are eating the poison, or they’re eating the mice that’s eaten the poison, so that kind of becomes a terrible thing. I know what a mouse plague looks like, because I was doing the Larapinta trek in Central Australia a few years ago, and there was a mice plague up there. It was horrendous, because they’re little tiny bush mice, and they kind of look like cockroaches and they just scatter around. It was awful, really. They were in your tents and they were eating the food. They were nibbling their way through the water bags and things and it was really quite hard. And we were talking to one guy and we said ‘oh, god, these mice, when they get into the tent at night, I’m just a bit terrified what they’re going to do.’ He said ‘now, what you should do is take a sleeping pill and then when they nest in your hair at night, it won’t worry you.’
You said the smell was awful, because they were just dying.
Yeah, that’s right and they were shitting everywhere and dying. Yeah, it was just awful. I mean, I’ve never experienced anything like that. People in the country have to kind of cope with that, every so often, I suppose. But yeah, to see it firsthand was astonishing.
So this is a new plan. We can’t bring the Chicago cats here, because of biosecurity and COVID. But, we could round up some city cats; get them out there
Have a weekend away, see how much damage they could do.
When the cat’s away! All right, I think that’s enough, for one day.
Thank you so much for your contribution.
Sorry about my husky voice. I’m battling a bit of a cold.
But, you’re winning?
Yes, I hope so. I will survive.
Next week, I’ll be the one with the husky voice. Thanks, Sue.
And thank you all for listening. Bye. Bye. Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flat- chat.com.au And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite pod catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.