James Packer's Crown Resorts has been asked to reduce the size of the podium for its proposed casino tower and move the podium back from the waterfront, to address concerns the lower floors of the casino will dominate the public space and constrict the harbour walkway.
The suggested changes from the Department of Planning NSW are contained in a draft recommendation that was sent to Lendlease and Crown for comment in November last year. The recommendation by the department is for approval of Modification 8 which, among other changes, relocates the hotel from its original site over the water to the land.
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Former premier Barry O'Farrell scrapped the hotel over the water which then gave rise to the opportunity for Crown to apply for a second casino licence without tender after it signed an exclusive deal with Lendlease to develop the new hotel on land at Barangaroo.
But the Department has recommended approval with conditions, including reducing the size of the multi-storey podium housing the casino from which the petal-shaped tower rises. This would have an impact on the size of the gaming and entertainment floors, which are in the podium.
It also wants the podium moved back from the waterfront. Moving the building back even 10 metres from the water to widen the public walkway would mean lower floors in the tower would lose their views over Observatory Hill to the Opera House.
Artists' impressions of the Crown complex show a podium the equivalent of about nine storeys high, with the walls of the podium sloping outwards, so the top floor is larger than the footprint of the building at ground level. There is also provision for several metres of outdoor areas for bars and restaurants, further narrowing the public walkway which was already narrower than elsewhere in the Barangaroo site.
Plan showing the Crown Casino site at Barangaroo (blue) the area for bars and restaurants (red), and the remaining public walkway. Photo: Wilkinson Eyre Architects
The major concern of the department is with the bulk of the casino/hotel complex, rather than height. The $2 billion casino/hotel, which Mr Packer says will be the most expensive and lavish hotel in the world, will be 275 metres tall, 100 metres higher than the original hotel proposal. But its floor space will more than double, from 33,000 square metres in the old hotel to 77,500 square metres.
Similar concerns about squeezing of the public domain were raised by the independent Urban Design Review Panel comprising the government architect, Peter Poulet and architects Meredith Sussex and Shelley Penn. In their preliminary report in September they asked Crown to "provide clarification of the varying dimensions of the fully publicly accessible promenade for the length of Barangaroo South". They also asked for more information on how the podium would relate to the external spaces and likely wind and overshadowing impacts.
Mr Packer expressed his frustration in December with the slow progress on his casino, telling the Financial Review "Of course it's frustrating. It's been a marathon process to get where we are in Sydney, we proposed the hotel almost four years ago and we are miles behind our opening date schedule. At our end we really want to get moving."
But it appears the delays lie with Lendlease and Crown.
"The Department sent the draft conditions on [Mod 8] to Lendlease on 25 November 2015 and expects a response in the near future," the department said.
The department said it provides draft conditions to applicants of all major project proposals.
Crown executives have held several meetings with Premier Mike Baird in recent months to discuss the casino project.
It is understood Lendlease and Crown have spent the last few weeks working with the architects to ensure all the draft conditions are satisfactorily addressed.
The departmental recommendation and the design panel's views will be provided to an independent Planning Assessment Commission for final determination.
Crown declined to comment on the record and Lendlease did not respond.