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Five-star 150-room hotel blooms in radical Botanic Gardens and Domain revamp

A 25-year plan for the redevelopment of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain aims to open public space for an $80 million five-star ''Botanic Hotel'' as well as create a new ferry wharf and a Domain railway station.

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Master plan for Sydney's Botanic Gardens

A fly-through animation shows the master plan for Sydney's Botanic Gardens and Domain over the next 25 years. Video supplied.

The master plan, the first in the almost 200-year history of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, will have vacant space about the length of a football pitch next to the Domain car park leased for a 150-room hotel that will have rooftop gardens open to the public.

There will also be a permanent ''sound shell'' adjacent to the Sydney Hospital, where summer season concerts and Carols in the Domain now take place.

The draft plan, obtained by The Sun-Herald, will be released on Sunday with the Trust saying that any land lost will be replaced.

The plan includes 25 proposals to be rolled out in stages over 25 years, including a harbour viewing platform, a plaza and a new shop and cafe.


One significant gain of green space will be a widening of the land bridge linking the gardens and the Domain over the Eastern Distributor.

The master plan has a price tag of more than $130 million, excluding the ferry and wharf projects, with the Trust seeking funding from the private sector as well as the state and federal governments.

It seeks to ring-fence the gardens from commercialisation, focusing on the Domain, which already hosts concerts and events, for development and raising revenue.

The Trust receives about $21 million annually in state government grants for three gardens - the Royal Botanic Gardens, Mount Tomah in the Blue Mountains and Mount Annan - and raises about $25 million through its own revenue raising.

The exclusive hotel would be located on Sir John Young Crescent on the south-east edge of the Domain. The land is leased to property group Challenger and the Trust intends to work with them to find a third party to build and operate the hotel, which would provide the Trust with a revenue stream.

The building would likely be four storeys but, because of the sloping land, would emerge only one storey above the adjacent playing fields which are to be upgraded. The Trust has held discussions with government agencies, including Roads and Maritime Services and government architects, over the plans.

The Domain station, which would be on the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line, and the wharf are at a preliminary stage and would not be financed by the Trust.

New executive director Sydney Parklands and Botanic Gardens, Kim Ellis, said there would be no commercialisation of the gardens and no plans for an entry charge. There would be no loss of green space, he said.

''You don't see any McDonald's, there's no entry fees charged, there's no new gates,'' he said. ''These gardens are free to the public. We want this to be a public facility. There isn't a plan to fill it with coffee shops, to commercialise it, to run it as a pay-for-entry business. This is about putting in amenities that people need.

''Yes there are big dollars in this, but it is over 25 years and we can deliver all of these things.''

Mr Ellis said the railway station and the ferry terminal had not been costed but the Trust wanted to preserve space for public transport.

Last May former prime minister Paul Keating labelled Sydney a ''whore to stimulus'' and called for the preservation of the Royal Botanic Gardens as a green open space as the state government pushed to generate more revenue from the site.

Angered by the increasing use of the gardens to stage opera and film events with bars and food stalls, Mr Keating accused the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust of breaching its duty to the public in pursuit of money and ''moving inexorably to being simply another arena''.

But Mr Ellis said the plan had been developed to ''absolutely protect'' the core of the gardens.

''We have a custodial responsibility to protect this green space. Two hundred years ago someone had the vision to say this should belong to the public,'' he said.

''I am absolutely convinced that this plan is a great plan. It is responsible and responsive - it meets the needs of the people that are using it.''

The plans also include a new building, housing a cafe and shop, inside the QE11 Gate opposite the Opera House to give visitors a better understanding of what the gardens offer.

A plaza will be created between The Pavilion restaurant and the Art Gallery on Art Gallery Road, which could be used for market stalls at weekends, art displays and as a performance space.

A harbour viewing platform at Mrs Macquaries Point will also be built.

The completion of the previously funded $16 million Biome project, a controlled-climate education centre around the existing glass pyramid, along with a children's garden with trails and improved signage throughout the gardens, likely to be first off the block next year, ready for the bicentenary of the gardens in 2016.

Also included is an upgrade to the Waterfront Promenade along Farm Cove which in recent years has been affected by flooding at high tides and during storms.

Domain Lodge and historic depot would become a cafe and kitchen garden and Victoria Lodge will become a function space.

The Trust employs 350 staff.

The gardens attract 4 million visitors a year, up 12.5 per cent to 2013, along with a further 5 million to the Domain.

It is estimated that 15 per cent of all international tourists visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, said to be the world's most visited botanical gardens.

Ian Connolly of architects Cox Richardson which drew up the master plan, said the proposals at Mrs Macquaries Point had taken into consideration any heritage issues. He said: ''Sydney can't rest. You have got to keep looking to improve the experience not only for visitors but for everybody who lives here as well.''

The master plan is on view for public consultation until May 4 at Lion Gate Lodge at the gardens or online at http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/

Correction: This story originally stated there will be a permanent ''sound shell'' adjacent to the Sydney Eye Hospital.


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