BY JOHN MOYLE
Change brought about by urban development and renewal is inevitable and can lead to the revitalisation and repurposing of areas for the better. But when it is on the scale of what is currently happening across NSW, it is often detrimental to the locality, its heritage and the lives of the people living there.
The present splurge, led by rising property values and low interest rates, is being encouraged by Government departments with developers on speed dial and inexperienced local councillors who do not listen to their constituents.
Across the state, this unprecedented boom is seeing communities uprooted, public housing erased and the individual forgotten.
The proposal to decimate Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross is of such a scale that it will impact not only the geographical area of the proposal, but will also force unwanted change on the people living in its footprint.
Jenny, a government administrative worker, has lived in Cherwood, directly behind the development, for 15 years, and sums up the feelings of a lot of residents when she said, “I feel anxious about the future, and don’t want to put up with the noise and dust from something I don’t want.”
Around the corner in Roslyn Street, Shamus Moore and his sister Eulalie operate the Piccolo Bar, an establishment many refer to as an example of the ‘Old Cross’. The Piccolo is also a local community centre, employs five staff and is the only place around 20 elderly locals come each week to get healthy hot meals.
Trucks, noise and dust created by the development will directly affect the business and possibly force it and neighbouring shops to close, as Roslyn Street becomes a no-go zone.
“We are prepared to fight on, but our business will be severely impacted, if not terminally,” Shamus said.
For the past five years, performer Vashti Hughes has been living and drawing inspiration from the area for numerous theatre and cabaret shows.
“What is clear in my research for the shows is that people want and need a sense of history and community,” Vashti said.
Now that we know something of the local community, it is only fair that we also know something of the developer, Iris Capital’s chief executive officer, Sam Arnaout.
Sam, real first name, Wassim, comes from a distinguished Lebanese family with Albanian origins reaching back to the early days of the Ottoman Empire.
Thirty eight year-old Sam’s rise onto the Sydney property scene began in 1995, when he and his brother Ramy formed Iris Capital, quickly establishing themselves as major players by buying up a hefty portfolio of Sydney hotels.
By 2006 the group had bagged 13 pubs, but soon realised that bigger bucks lay in developing property rather than selling beer and fermented spirits to building workers.
Commenting on the current development bonanza in 2014, Ray White Hotels’ managing director, Andrew Jolliffe, told The Australian newspaper, ”In a low interest rate cycle, the opportunity to invest in high yielding A-grade property assets complete with the potential to improve already impressive cash flow themes is seldom available.”
Iris Capital’s website shows them currently operating 13 pubs, including the Colombian and Gaslight in Darlinghurst, the Grand in Bondi Junction and the Bourbon and Empire in Kings Cross.
In 2013 Iris Capital sold the Crest Hotel in Potts Point and the Crown Hotel Parramatta to Chinese developer Greenland for a combined price of $170 million.
The website also lists 12 developments either under construction or consideration, including the proposals for Kings Cross’ Darlinghurst Road and Newcastle’s East End.
Up in Newcastle, the Newcastle Herald won’t hear a bad word about Sam, as they triumphantly report his purchases and developments with gushes usually reserved for impressionable children.
The 1.6 hectare East End site was sold to Sam by UrbanGrowth NSW and property group GPT for around $40 million, and will attract a $750 million investment in four stages to develop the Hunter Street Mall area for 155 new apartments and shops.
A penthouse in the development sold last year for $6 million.
“There’s going to be a wall of development so lots of rich people living there will be able to afford to buy from the shops underneath,” local resident, Michael Gormly said.
It’s not all about commercial development for Sam as he has been busy acquiring an impressive property portfolio for himself.
In 2015 Sam set the Sydney real estate market buzzing with his purchase of a whole-floor apartment in the Toaster building for $22 million, a record for an apartment in Sydney at the time.
Back in Newy, “I’m a real believer in Newcastle” Sam was shoring up his love of the region with the 2016 purchase of the 48 hectare Sweetwater estate at Pokolbin, and a year later snapping up the historic Dalwood-Wyndham wine estate.
However, a July 2015 report in The Australian ended Sam’s smooth ascendancy when it reported that he and brother Ramy were in dispute with the ATO over the amount of tax owing on a sale of a $300 pub asset sale.
Keeping it in the family, both Sam and Ramy’s wives were also caught up, allegedly under-declaring income from Iris Group trusts in 2008 by some $9 million each.
The City Hub is not aware of the current status of these claims.
Now that Sam and his board know something about the people of Kings Cross who will be impacted by this development, they must also know that this is one proposed development that won’t come easy.