Bizarre saga of the plaza
EVENTS surrounding the prime Flinders Plaza site in the CBD are bizarre, to say the least, but one thing is clear – the site needs a new developer to take on the project.
As reported in the Bulletin on March 19, Townsville developer Laurence Lancini has sought to withdraw from a joint venture with national retail group Austex which holds title to almost an entire block on Flinders St, proposed site of the $ 200 million entertainment and retail project Flinders Plaza.
For reasons only they know, Austexx are ignoring approaches to deal with a parcel mostly acquired in 2007 for a total of about $ 40 million.
The Lancini Group, which is a 25 per cent shareholder in the joint venture, reported that they had been met with silence from Austexx for months despite repeated attempts to organise a meeting to discuss the project’s future.
They felt they had no alternative but to resign and sell out.
The company said it had exercised a put option – an option contract giving the owner the right to sell – to dispose of the group’s shareholding.
Presumably, the embattled Austexx group, owner of the debt-troubled Direct Factory Outlet chain, has more pressing matters to deal with.
While Austexx would not return calls from the Bulletin, the Townsville City Council is also being stonewalled. Deputy Mayor David Crisafulli told
Business Desk they, too, had tried to speak with Austexx representatives for months without success.
There is a belief that the Westpac Bank which holds a charge over the joint venture company could take ac- tion to sell the property. If it does, it may require a group the size of a Westfield to take it on.
Cr Crisafulli said the council was formulating an incentive package to encourage investment in the city.
He said all levels of government should focus on selling the city’s bright future and delivering incentives to make investment more attractive.
‘‘ The council will play a role in that in the weeks ahead,’’ he said.
While recent events were a setback and a blow for the Lancini Group, he said the ‘‘ hard work’’ of amalgamating such a big site – 1.4ha – had been done.
‘‘ My focus will remain on ensuring the city gets the department store it deserves,’’ Cr Crisafulli said. The site represented a ‘‘ golden opportunity’’.
‘‘ If you can find nearly an entire city block in a city with the population of nearly 200,000 where the area has been upgraded to the standard of Flinders St, I’d be very surprised,’’ he said.
‘‘ We want to make sure such a prime piece of real estate is not wasted.
‘‘ I think it’s a lay-down misere that the city deserves David Jones.’’
There are whispers that David Jones is bidding to go back into the mall, but at this stage it seems that they are only whispers.
Cr Crisafulli said the council had been talking to David Jones executives and would continue to encourage their return to the city.