In­spired by Capri’s JK Place Ho­tel, a grand cliff­side villa over­look­ing the Gulf of Naples, as well as Kit Kemp’s trendy Fir­m­dale ho­tels in New York, plus a slew of Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can de­sign bolt­holes in be­tween, a low-key Bris­bane fam­ily is transforming the city’s de­crepit Howard Smith Wharves and bolted-up air raid shel­ters into a world-class entertainment precinct. Adam Flaskas and his sis­ter-in-law Elisha Bickle, the brains be­hind the retro Hamp­tons-style Hal­cyon House boutique ho­tel on the idyl­lic NSW north coast, are months out from open­ing the first stage of the $200 mil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment of the her­itage­listed Howard Smith Wharves, which have sat idle on the ser­pen­tine Bris­bane River for decades.

Close to Flaskas’s heart is his am­bi­tious plan for an over-water cham­pagne and cock­tail bar jut­ting out into the murky river wa­ters, but there’s a craft brew­ery and a cof­fee roast­ing house also in the wings.

A boutique 164-room lux­ury Art Se­ries ho­tel (de­vel­oped by Mel­bourne’s Deague fam­ily and since sold to Mantra, which in turn has been picked up by French hos­pi­tal­ity gi­ant Ac­cor), plus restau­rants spe­cial­is­ing in Chi­nese and Mediter­ranean cui­sine fill out the pic­ture, with farmer’s mar­kets and fes­ti­vals to be in­tro­duced from 2019. Chicken coops, bee­hives, and an olive grove will add a ru­ral air to the de­vel­op­ment along the famed river walk that con­nects the hip wa­ter­side sub­urb of New Farm with the city proper and is fre­quented by 1.5 mil­lion tourists, com­muters and lo­cals each year.

Flaskas, who hails from one of Bris­bane’s mul­ti­lay­ered Greek fam­i­lies, be­gan his work­ing life as a brickie’s labourer. He grew his de­vel­op­ment spurs work­ing with Mel­bourne’s famed Fox truck­ing fam­ily, and has not taken a backward step. He doesn’t hide his lack of aca­demic cre­den­tials: “I did an hour at univer­sity, I couldn’t find a car park and kept driv­ing.

“But I guess my spe­cial­ity, which I learned from the Fox fam­ily, was buy­ing un­der-utilised, derelict prop­erty and bringing it back to life,” he says. “And if a build­ing is her­itage-listed I have even more in­ter­est.”

For Bickle, who has a strong hos­pi­tal­ity back­ground, the idea is to bring to life one of Bris­bane’s last work­ing wharf precincts. “The plan is to try and keep the wharves as they are as much as we can – we think that’s the beauty of the site,” she says. “It has a very dra­matic cliff run­ning be­hind it, it al­ready has a lot of nat­u­ral beauty, we are try­ing to keep it as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble with­out over-them­ing the precinct.

“We think we are adding an­other layer to Bris­bane. It is grow­ing so much and to date the Bris­bane River has been very un­der-utilised ... I think the most ex­cit­ing part of it is the fact it is fac­ing the river and em­brac­ing it.”

Bickle and Flaskas are em­ploy­ing Bris­bane in­te­rior de­signer Anna Spiro, who helped cre­ate Hal­cyon House’s in­te­ri­ors, to work across parts of the 3.4 hectare Howard Smith Wharves site. “There’s a lot of cre­ative peo­ple we are work­ing with col­lab­o­ra­tively to achieve the best de­sign out­come with dif­fer­ent de­sign­ers for each area,” Bickle says.

Clev­erly, the pair are not tar­get­ing one spe­cific age group or so­cial class to the re­de­vel­oped site, which was orig­i­nally built at the be­hest of the Queens­land govern­ment to pro­vide lo­cals with re­lief work dur­ing the 1930s de­pres­sion era. Bickle and Flaskas won the project, named af­ter the coastal ship­ping com­pany that leased the wharves for nearly 30 years, against stiff com­pe­ti­tion from other de­vel­op­ers, and will op­er­ate it on a 99-year lease­hold from the Bris­bane City Coun­cil.

Says Bickle: “We are go­ing for a com­pletely wide de­mo­graphic. Our whole phi­los­o­phy is any­one should be able to come down and en­joy it and by de­fault when tourists come to Bris­bane they will ask where the lo­cals go. As for the brew­ery, it will not be a male-dom­i­nated venue, it’s for grand­par­ents and chil­dren and groups of younger and older peo­ple.”

Even Syd­neysider chefs have been drawn to the Howard Smith Wharves site. Jonathan Barthelmess, co-owner of Potts Point favourites, The Apollo and Cho Cho San will run the Mediter­ranean/Greek restau­rant tar­get­ing the busi­ness lunch mar­ket as much as fam­ily din­ners. Stan­ley, a Chi­nese restau­rant, is be­ing de­vel­oped by Bris­bane-based restau­ra­teur An­drew Baturo.

Flaskas is ret­i­cent about the project’s back­ers, divulging only that they are a group of pri­vate in­vestors. “The in­vestors be­lieve in the site and the vi­sion, we know each other well, we are pri­vates. For us it’s in our back­yard and our city and our whole pro­posal is a less-is­more ap­proach,” he says, be­fore dash­ing back to Bris­bane on the first flight out of Syd­ney.

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