The jewel in the Crown empire could be converted to luxury apartments if Sydney’s high-roller casino is not allowed to open, an urban design expert predicts.
- Crown Resorts would need to make sweeping cultural changes to be considered a suitable operator of the casino, a report found
- The casino component of the skyscraper could be converted to luxury apartments if approval were granted
- One economist said the Barangaroo precinct would eventually be profitable without the casino
A final report from the Crown probe, commissioned by NSW’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA), was more than 750 pages long, but Commissioner Patricia Bergin delivered her biggest blow in just one word.
After an 18-month inquiry, the former chief judge found James Packer’s company was not suitable to hold the gaming licence for Barangaroo.
That means if NSW’s gaming regulator adopts the recommendations, Crown cannot operate Sydney’s second casino without significant reform.
But the $2.2 billion tower has already been built and decked out, gaming chips and all, with staff busily preparing for the casino’s opening.
“The question is — what’s the next option for Crown?” asked Mike Harris, a lecturer at UNSW who studied the Barangaroo project.
The resort’s restaurants, bars and hotel have been trading since late last year, but the luxury spaces carved out for gaming have stood dormant.
“I’d be surprised if an organisation like Crown hadn’t run scenarios, even before the inquiry, as to what alternative uses there could be if anything happened,” Dr Harris said.
“The most likely option … would be converting the casino floor space to residential floor space.”
The skyscraper’s existing 82 apartments have fetched sky-high prices: the cheapest reportedly sold for almost $10 million.
“It’s the location, it’s the view, it’s the prestige,” Dr Harris said of the 72-floor development that overlooks Sydney Harbour.
“We’re talking about the tallest habitable building in Sydney.
“If high-end residential sales remain strong in that location … you’d have to imagine that would have to make the project viable.”
But if Crown wanted to make the modifications and add more residential accommodation it would require approval.
“Nothing would be surprising at this point, looking back at the process of how Barangaroo has unfolded,” Dr Harris said.
Economist Nicki Hutley said the Barangaroo precinct would eventually be profitable without the casino.
“If it survives this year [and the pandemic], then I think it can probably survive whatever happens to the Crown development,” she said.
Ms Hutley said there was strong demand for luxury hotels in Sydney’s CBD before Australia’s borders were shut last year.
“Clearly [the Crown hotel] was built to accommodate patrons of the Casino, but there will be a market for it anyway,” she said.
“Post-COVID Australia stands to benefit from the fantastic reputation we have from a health and economic perspective.”