THE Newcastle CBD took another step towards its revitalised future on Thursday, when Japanese-backed interests paid $6.6 million under the hammerfor the old Church Street courthouse.
Although the prospective owners said they could not reveal their plans until the new year, sources with the bidding team confirmed the site was being bought with tertiary education in mind. Whether or not a foreign university is interested in Newcastle, there is no denying that tertiary education –like many other commercial activities–is an increasingly international pursuit. Indeed, the University of Newcastle –which had its own CBD property announcement this week – has had a presencein Singapore for more than a decade. As the Newcastle Herald reported on Monday, the university has confirmed a decision to buytwo hectares of land at Honeysuckle, immediately north of its striking NeW Space building, which is taking shapeon the corner of Hunter Street and Auckland Street. Although this project –like the re-use of the old courthouse –is in its early days, the university says that one reason for wanting the site isthe attraction of the city centre for foreign students.
The two sites may, or may not, be in competition with each other. Time will tell. Butwhat they do show is a willingness to invest in the city centre –a willingness that the state government says is a direct result of its Revitalising Newcastle project, based around the CBD light rail and theprivatisation of the bus and ferry services, also announced this week.
These are challenging times for some people. There is no doubt about that, and the Herald is not automatically endorsing everything that comes out of Macquarie Street. Nor will it applaud every development proposal, or every gleaming artist’s impression or “this is the future” video.
But these are also potentially exciting times for Newcastle, at a time when it needs more investment, and more people, to keep its place in an accelerating world.
There were times when the Herald sent reporters out along Hunter Street to count the empty buildings. Now we count cranes. There were times, too, when few commercial buildings sold at auction, and when few CBD development applications ever made it off the drawing board. Not any more.
We should keep our eyes open, certainly. But we can also embrace the opportunities coming our way, while we have them.