THERE are more potential headaches in council buying and redeveloping the old hospital site than an episode of The Block but there is also a unique opportunity to take control of a significant parcel of land in the heart of the city.
If councillors vote to buy the site, and there is significant opposition within the ranks to that, ratepayers could be buying a multi-million dollar white elephant. If they do not, can they be sure any future development will be compatible the council’s vision for the precinct?
Would a profit-driven developer be amenable to the mix of housing, open space and retail that some councillors seem keen to see on the site or would a developer slug it out with council, through the courts if necessary, to maximise his or her return?
The only way to be absolutely sure ratepayers don’t end up with that scenario is for councillors to sink ratepayers’ money into a very expensive undertaking.
But before they contemplate that councillors would need answers to a host of questions.
Is the construction of the aging multistory building compatible with a redevelopment that could require the removal of internal walls? Should part or all of it be demolished and rebuilt and what would the demolition cost be? Is the site full of asbestos and other contamination and what would that cost to clean-up? How much would it cost to see the precinct totally redeveloped and should ratepayers be exposed to such a significant risk in the property market?
There are powerful arguments on both sides but these must not be discussed behind council’s cloak of “commercial in confidence.” Keep price negotiations confidential by all means, but everything else should be laid out for public scrutiny.