Developers in Fremantle are working to deliver multi-million-dollar projects, filling the port city’s development pipeline.
AN “exciting cocktail of prosperity” is how Fremantle Chamber of Commerce boss Chrissie Maus describes the billion-dollar development pipeline for the port city.
It’s a sentiment that’s enthusiastically echoed by property developers.
Prominent players Silverleaf, Sirona Urban and Hesperia are steaming ahead with multi-milliondollar development plans amid a challenging construction market.
Renewed interest has attracted the likes of Andrew Forrest’s property investment arm Fiveight, which is pushing ahead with a six-storey hotel on the old Spicers site in the heart of Fremantle.
Construction is quietly progressing at Silverleaf’s former police and prison precinct behind The Old Courthouse, part of what’s hoped will become a new hospitality offering to complement a 96-room hotel.
Long-term vacancies on the cappuccino strip are filling up, with Signature Hospitality Group getting the nod to build a three-storey tavern at the neglected Hungry Jack’s site.
Work is under way at hospitality mover and shaker Prendiville Group’s prime asset on South Terrace, although the directors remain tight-lipped.
An enhanced police presence is looking likely for the CBD with the state government’s $87 million Fremantle Police District Complex gaining development approval last month.
So, why the sudden flurry of development interest, investment and activity?
Fremantle Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge told Business News the positive sentiment could largely be attributed to the Walyalup Koort and FOMO redevelopments.
“You have to imagine the opposite future where none of that [redevelopments] happened … and to think what the investment confidence would have been like in Fremantle,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
“I think we’d be in a pretty terrible position right now.
“Depending on the risk appetite of the different developers, what happened was that once it was all signed, sealed and starting to be delivered we saw things like the Manning Buildings being redeveloped. There was just immediate confidence.”
FOMO and Walyalup Koort were developed through a joint venture between the city and Sirona Urban.
The combined $270 million undertaking transformed the rundown precinct, home to the old Myer building, into a hospitality hub, community space, civic centre and local government headquarters.
Ms Fitzhardinge said the redevelopment created a snowball effect that sparked renewed confidence in investing and developing in Fremantle.
“That renewed confidence takes place in an environment where the construction market is still a massive suppressant to development,” she said.
$1.2bn PLANNED DEVELOPMENT IN CENTRAL FREMANTLE.
“It does fill us with some level of confidence that things can go fairly well from here.”
Fremantle CBD’s $1.2 billion total development pipeline would deliver 8,000 square metres of retail floor space, 6,000sqm of hospitality and 12,000sqm of office, according to the city.
It would also deliver 758 new dwelling and 654 hotel rooms.
Sirona Urban managing director Mathew McNeilly said a key driver behind major inner-city redevelopment was to change the look and feel of under-activated spaces.
“When I started the journey on Kings Square, one of our key objectives (and put the developer profit motive to one side) was to deliver a legacy project that would fundamentally change the way Fremantle’s CBD felt,” Mr McNeilly told Business News.
“It was horrible in there. The old Myer development store, there was a Hoyts cinema in there that pretty much nobody used, and then the city’s old building, which was laced with asbestos.
“That had become a fundamental barrier. As a result of that, people disengaged with Fremantle. But those people who disengaged are back.”
On the other side of town, a concerted effort is being made by three developers to materially rejuvenate the east end of Fremantle.
Sirona Urban, Silverleaf and Hesperia has each aired plans to deliver multi-million-dollar residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments while enhancing the streetscape.
The three developers, through the City of Fremantle, are on a working subcommittee to create strong cohesion between the individual developments.
Mr McNeilly said it was a unique opportunity to have the three developers progressing plans at the same time in the same area.
“It means it won’t be a ten-tofifteen-year urban renewal … this will happen a lot more quickly,” he said.
“And so it should, because to me it’s the icing on the cake for the overall renewal story of Fremantle.”
Mr McNeilly is finalising plans for his $100 million apartment complex proposal for 8 Point Street.
The site was previously earmarked for a DoubleTree by Hilton by SKS Group, which failed to start construction on the hotel.
Mr McNeilly plans to get the 220-apartment, cafe and commercial tenancies proposal before the Development Assessment Panel by December, aiming to break ground in 2024.
Meanwhile, Hesperia plans to make use of its Elders Wool Stores through event hire after acquiring the largely inactive asset for $6.86 million from former Esplanade Hotel owner Marylyn New in 2022.
“Hesperia has been working steadily to establish the best long-term repurposing of the Elders Wool Stores in Fremantle given the site’s significance within the broader town centre area,” a spokesperson told Business News.
“Throughout 2023, we have been evaluating a number of options for the site that involve a different mix of uses for the landmark structures.
“Hesperia is currently working through a feasibility study and is looking forward to finalising a project concept in 2024.”
Hesperia will be opening the Elders Wool Stores as an events venue for the upcoming Fremantle Biennale, a contemporary arts festival founded in 2017.
Meanwhile, Silverleaf has commenced construction on its Woolstores Shopping Centre site, with a view to opening the revamped Coles supermarket for Christmas 2024.
Fremantle-based Silverleaf has staged the construction to enable potential future development, including a hotel, and a build-to-rent and high-end aged care facility.
The developer has only committed to stage one of the project due to construction and capital costs.
Silverleaf Investments director Gerard O’Brien said it was difficult to muster much enthusiasm given construction costs.
“It’s very tight, there’s no profit at all in any development now. The more you build, the more you lose,” Mr O’Brien told Business News.
“These are projects we’ve been committed to for a long time, so we will keep moving forward; but at the moment it’s not exciting running into a fire, but we will just keep progressing.”
Despite the challenging construction market, however, Mr O’Brien said 2024 would be a significant year for Silverleaf with the expected unveiling of two projects.
Following the completion of The Old Courthouse, Silverleaf has got to work on the next stage of its former police and prison precinct bounded by Henderson, William and Parry streets.
Under the development, the convict precinct will be transformed into a two-tenancy hospitality hub and 96-room hotel alongside the recently reopened Warders Cottages and The Old Courthouse.
Silverleaf has engaged Asian eatery and dumpling house Miss Chow’s to open a 360-seat venue and is also building a cafe tenancy alongside a hotel dining and bar venue.
Next month, Silverleaf will close the William Street car park to begin construction on the entryway to the hub, which Mr O’Brien said would become a key part of the west end’s activation.
“Honestly, with the markets here, with all the bits and pieces that have gone on in this area, I reckon this will be the heart of the west end,” he said. “This will become the real hub of the heritage precinct, especially linking to the Fremantle Prison.” Along Norfolk Street, the Fremantle Italian Club site was the subject of an early agreement between the City of Fremantle, the club, and Hesperia to assess a redevelopment project.
The three parties signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 to explore the development of new commercial, community and residential components on the corner site.
However, Business News can reveal the developer is no longer involved with the project after the MOU expired and was not renewed in 2022.
“Hesperia has no current involvement with the Fremantle Italian Club,” a spokesperson said.
“We have a number of major projects under way across the Perth metropolitan area, and the opportunities associated with the Fremantle Italian Club did not align with our plans in the next few years.
“Hesperia continues to believe that the club site provides an exciting future opportunity for Fremantle when considered as part of broader planning for the surrounding area.”
Ms Fitzhardinge said the city was working actively on rezoning the Italian club site to enable a future project to be viable. ‘
Any future development on the Italian club site would benefit from a proposed extension of Norfolk Street down to Mews Road, essentially connecting the cappuccino strip to the harbour.
The wayfinding proposal is among the headline initiatives detailed in the Fremantle Harbours Master Plan unveiled by key stakeholders in September.
A section of Mews Road running along the harbour would be turned into a shared promenade to activate the waterfront through events and new hospitality ventures.
The master plan also provisions for a mixed-use precinct, with preferred uses including commercial, entertainment, and accommodation such as short-term, temporary and student options.
A suite of potential upgrades and changes could make way for proposed plans by low-profile billionaire Angela Bennett to create a tourism destination hub on the harbour.
In 2019, Bennett family investment arm AMB Holdings proposed building hospitality and accommodation offerings at the boat lifting and storage site tenanted by its subsidiary, Blue HQ.
At the time, AMB said it was working with the site landholder, Department of Transport, to assess moving the boat lifting and storage facility to an alternative location.
The recently released master plan discusses the possibility of moving the boat lifter while maintaining the maritime infrastructure within the harbour, which could make way for the waterfront proposal.
“Relocating the facility to the southern industrial working precinct of the fishing boat harbour will provide a suitable commercial operation with regard to site dimension, land area and improved access, and be located less prominently to areas of high public amenity and interaction,” it said.
Fremantle is experiencing a period of renaissance, according to Ms Fitzhardinge.
Contributing to the growth in development activity is the wave of long-term vacancies being filled along South Terrace, Freo’s cappuccino strip.
Among the major movers is Signature Hospitality Group, which received the green light to build a tavern on the long-vacant former Hungry Jack’s site in September.
The hospitality group will spend $6.5 million to demolish the building and erect a three-storey tavern and microbrewery under The Sporting Globe Bar & Grill brand.
SHG founder and chief executive James Sinclair said the tavern’s design incorporated modern aspects while being sympathetic to the surrounding historical architecture.
He said the tavern’s rooftop element was a particularly exciting feature.
“We’ve actually orientated and designed the rooftop, and most of the levels, to have an overlooking of people and activity down the strip,” Mr Sinclair told Business News.
“Internally, we’re going to have a phenomenal entertainment setup, for watching sports and big occasions and so forth.
“Then, layering that with fantastic food, craft beer and the amazing people-watching down the strip, we think will be something really special for the town.”
The group is developing The Sporting Globe Bar & Grill as a company-owned store but will assess a potential partnership with a local operator to joint venture or franchise the venue.
“There is a fantastic group of operators along the strip, and we have actually all caught up and discussed with each other because we all feel working together, designing and collaborating is beneficial,” Mr Sinclair said.
“For them [City of Fremantle] to give us the green light on this and support other operators to attract them to invest in the strip, that’s what I think creates success in the heart of cities.”
Another operator moving into the cappuccino strip is chain cafe and chocolatier San Churro, which is tipped to take hold of the historic Evan Davies building once tenanted by Dome.
The corner building has been vacant for two years since Dome moved out.
Meanwhile, work is under way at hospitality specialist Prendiville Group’s The Fremantle Technical School asset, which it acquired from the state government for $3.55 million in 2020.
The historic and prominent South Terrace asset is expected to be activated with a hospitality venue, the company’s headquarters, and a hospitality training facility.
Another major development to get the go-ahead is the state government’s $87 million Fremantle Police District Complex, between the hospital and The Old Synagogue on South Terrace.
The project attracted significant community criticism during the public consultation period over site selection, the bulk of the development and its scale compared with nearby buildings.
Property development arm Fiveight also received approval for its $35 million Spicers site hotel plan last month.
The 2,834sqm site at 10 Henderson Street, currently a car park, will be redeveloped into a six-storey hotel comprising 117 rooms, a ground floor lobby, a restaurant and small bar.
The project is in the planning stage and construction is expected to start in 2024.
“The project has been designed to sit comfortably alongside Fremantle’s historic architecture and existing public spaces,” a Fiveight spokesperson said.
Other long-term vacancies in the South Terrace Piazza are being filled after Fremantle developer Yolk Property Group bought the asset for $18.2 million in 2022.
The piazza, once known for little more than the fountain and fairy shop, has been significantly activated with an array of brickand-mortar stores, cafes, and office spaces.
Yolk previously told Business News it had plans to redevelop the site long anchored by Timezone.
Overarching vacancy rates are improving across the CBD, with the rate returning to pre-COVID levels.
There are 21 fewer vacant sites in the city centre in 2023 than 2022.
All but one site in FOMO was occupied as of August 2023.
“The cappuccino strip is being brought back to life with familiar brands such as San Churro and Sporting Globe,” Ms Fitzhardinge said.
“With the addition of Sailing for Oranges restaurant to the hospitality and entertainment strip, we anticipate an influx of visitors to this iconic precinct.”
Local chamber of commerce chief executive Chrissie Maus said the statistics were telling her that Fremantle was experiencing an “exciting cocktail of prosperity”.
“Simply look at the statistics of the Fremantle development pipeline,” she said.
“It is the time to invest in Fremantle, whether it be a business, residential or simply because of the fact that we’re going to have 6,000 more people here in the next two years.
“It’s evident those big spaces that have been on the market or vacant for a long time are now getting not only just owners, but what I call the right owners.
“I’m glad we’ve waited for people who will make them into sensational new assets or anchor tenants for Fremantle.
“That Hungry Jack’s building has been for lease for a long time and as soon as you see one of those come off the market you know that it’s a time of tingling economic prosperity.”