The Academy of Interactive Entertainment has started negotiations with the ACT government to buy Canberra Technology Park, marking a major milestone in the gaming, animation and film school's long-held vision to transform the northside site.
But the academy will have to rethink its plans for the project, after the government confirmed it would demolish the ageing, asbestos-contaminated buildings at the old Watson School rather than allow them to be refurbished.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced the government is in talks with AIE about a direct sale of the 5.74-hectare site, near the Watson shops.
It comes five years after the private educator, a major tenant at the technology park since 1996, approached the government with an unsolicited bid to buy and transform the site.
The $111 million, 20-year vision included plans to build new student accommodation, turn the present hall into a film sound stage and refurbish the existing buildings.
After reviewing the business case, the government in late 2017 sought the community's views on the future of Canberra Technology Park, which showed widespread support for a redevelopment focussed on student housing and community facilities.
The respondents also expressed strong support for the retention of the adjacent park, with more than 85 per cent prepared to accept higher-density student housing if it meant preserving more green space.
Following the feedback, the government has agreed to retain a yet-to-be-determined portion of the park, and sell the remainder of the site to AIE for redevelopment as a "specialised higher education facility for the computer games, animation and film industries, including ancillary student accommodation and co-working spaces".
The government has confirmed the site's buildings would be demolished before it was sold. The timing of the demolition would depend on lease arrangements with the park's other tenants, including Canberra City Band.
A spokeswoman for the chief minister's directorate said the buildings were contaminated with asbestos and "beyond their useful life".
"Those buildings don't lend themselves well to incremental refurbishment given the nature of the asbestos within them," the spokeswoman said.
"It would not be viable for anyone to take on a site with buildings of that nature. There is also the government's paramount concern to make sure that whatever land is sold, is sold without that contamination risk to any future purchaser."
The planned demolition of the buildings means AIE will have to reassess their original plan for the site, which involved refurbishing the existing spaces.
AIE's manager of planning and implementation Casey Gregory said the team would need to clarify the parameters for development on the site, including how much land would be set aside for open space, before finalising its own plans.
But she said the academy was "absolutely committed" to delivering on its broad vision for the site, including more student accommodation and extra learning and co-working space.
"Since AIE started it has expanded into Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and online - but it is still headquartered here in Canberra," Ms Gregory said.
"[Chief executive] John De Margheriti grew up here, he has always had a connection to seeing Canberra do well and there being opportunities for young people in this space.
"He has always had that vision to produce talent, to develop games and films in Canberra and to retain that talent here. It is a passion that lies close to this heart.
"There is aspirations to grow the site and to increase the school's offerings and to really establish the school as a focal point for Canberra and a place where industry would come to find talent and make investment."