The transformation of one of Canberra's most distinctive heritage sites could begin in coming months, with the contract to redevelop the old Yarralumla brickworks to be finalised soon.
Doma Group won the redevelopment rights to the site almost two years ago, beating four other companies for the chance to build up to 380 new homes around the heritage buildings.
Managing director Jure Domazet said finalisation of the contracts with the ACT government was close now, after long delays following the split of the Land Development Agency into the Suburban Land Agency and the City Renewal Authority.
The Land Development Agency was divided in 2017 after attracting criticism for its controversial land deals and for worsening housing affordability.
Mr Domazet said the Suburban Land Agency board had wanted a review of the entire tender process so it could be comfortable with the outcome.
"I anticipate that we will sign in February/March and then we will start moving pretty quickly as we have done much of the preparatory design work," Mr Domazet said.
"The first stage will be most of the heritage works along with car parking along with about half of the residential dwellings. The necessary approvals for construction on site will take about 12 months, but we plan to commence remediation works before this. Community consultation will begin immediately upon finalising the contractual documents."
Mr Domazet was unable to speak more as he was bound by confidentiality provisions.
When Doma was announced as the preferred tenderer in 2017, Mr Domazet said the brickworks would be turned into restaurants, cafes, art and craft spaces, a "community men's shed", a cycling hub with bike repair shop and other retail shops.
Homes would be built around the brickworks grounds, the former brick quarry would become "Quarry Park" with a small lake, and the railway remnants behind the site bordering the golf course would be open to the public.
The 16-hectare site that will be developed is much smaller than the 49-hectare area the government originally planned to release, which would have allowed for up to 1800 homes.
The site was scaled back after the National Capital Authority said it would not support the housing development unless the territory addressed concerns about access to nearby Government House.
The old Commonwealth brickworks operated from 1913 to 1976, providing most of the bricks used to build Canberra. It is listed on the ACT Heritage Register.
A 1974 press release from federal Urban and Regional Development Minister Tom Uren said a new brickworks site had been chosen in Crace, as the Yarralumla site meant "excessive" use of neighbourhood roads by heavy traffic and created a level of air pollution "incompatible with the amenity of residential development nearby".
"The other main advantage the brickworks relocation will provide will be the freeing for a more suitable use - residential - of a large area of land in a location long overdue for redevelopment for this purpose," Mr Uren's statement said.
A 1977 release from Capital Territory Minister Tony Staley revealed plans to develop medium-density housing at the site, with the old bride kilns preserved for tourists.
A motel was also being considered and there was talk of turning the clay quarries into a park featuring the exposed geological formations in the area.
The brickworks underwent a $1 million renovation in 1979 to include craft shops and entertainment facilities.
"Indications are this $1 million project will be a profitable drawcard for Canberra," Capital Territory Minister Bob Ellicott said at the time.
Antique sellers, furniture restorers, designers, thespians and filmmakers have variously used the site from the 1980s and 1990s, but with uncertainty about the future of the brickworks hanging over their heads.
Businessman Alan Marr bought the site in 1980 and planned on turning it into a major tourist destination, as well as building 100 townhouses. However his company A. R. Marr Pty Ltd was in receivership by 1981 and the Commonwealth bought back the lease in 1984.
In 1989, another minister responsible for the ACT, Clyde Holding, announced a $115 million redevelopment of the site, that would include a 316-room country club resort, with parts of the brickworks maintained as a walk-through museum. A shared golf course with the Royal Canberra Golf Club was also on the cards.
The successful bidder Hookers beat out four other submissions, which included a proposal for a retirement village, medium-density housing and luxury hotels, serviced apartments and a tourist exhibition centre.
However by July that year the Hooker Corporation was in receivership. While the ACT management planned a buyout of the Canberra operations for $120 million but was rejected.
Australian Housing and Land, a company that emerged out of the failed Hooker empire, tried to forge ahead withe the development, having paid a $700,000 deposit on the land.
At one stage it was even suggested as the site for the Canberra casino, but this was rejected by the first Rosemary Follett government.
In 1992, ACT Planning Minister Bill Wood said the developers had conceded the redevelopment was unlikely to proceed. It emerged in 1993 that the plan failed because the developers could not raise the money.
Recycled furniture manufacturer Thor's Hammer has been in the old brickworks in 1994, but has moved into the old Tip Top factory in Griffith due to the redevelopment.
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