An old coal mine at the back of Dapto could become the next Daintree, according to a wealthy Sydney hotel developer, if their ambitious billion dollar tourism vision gets off the ground.
Joined by golf legend Greg Norman, head honchos from the Chinese-backed Visionary Investment Group (VIG) announced a $1.02 billion new direction for the 556 hectare land which once housed the Huntley Colliery.
A decade-old plan to build a Greg Norman-designed 18-hole course remains at the centre of the mine redevelopment, however the bold new vision will put more emphasis on high-end tourism and an Australia-first golf academy also bearing the champion golfer’s name.
To be named the Silkari Resort at Avondale, the investment group’s new vision includes a 290 room resort hotel and two sets of exclusive spa lodges that would be aimed at the luxury wedding tourism and overseas markets.
There would also be restaurants, a function centre, chapel, “meditation meadow”, microbrewery and cellar door, and a hospitality school with links to the University of Wollongong.
Almost 400 homes would be built across the site, including some semi-rural lots and properties overlooking the fairways.
Unveiling this vision on site, VIG chief Michael Guo said he hoped the resort and houses would become “the pride of the Illawarra” and appeal to Wollongong residents, overseas tourists, “mums and dads and newlyweds and politicians”.
He also claimed the resort would give “the best holiday experience on the planet, ever, period” and said the site was “one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen”
“You don’t have to go overseas to have a great time, you just need to go over the hill,” he said.
Read more: Huntley to be a world-class venue, Norman
Likewise, architect Nick Turner said his first visit to the West Dapto land, parts of which rise to 300 metres above sea-level, reminded him of Far North Queensland.
“I felt like I’d travelled five hours to the Daintree, and I was an hour and 15 minutes out of Sydney,” he said.
“It became crystal clear that it was possible to acknowledge the areas that required repair, and be excited by that, to re-energise the site. What we’re going to bring to this site is a truly integrated architectural and ecological response to the existing and future landscape, just out of Sydney.”
‘I was sceptical myself’ developer admits
The chief developer behind the extravagant tourism and housing resort proposed for the old Huntley Colliery has acknowledged the site’s troubled development history.
“I was sceptical myself before I came here,” Visionary Investment Group boss Michael Guo said, saying the beauty of the former mine land changed his mind.
“But we need to be patient, and really believe in our vision and take the opportunity to have a deeper conversation with all stakeholders.”
At present, the developer and Wollongong City Council are locked in a legal dispute after the council knocked back plans for the first residential stage of the development. They are due to meet in the Land and Environment Court next month.
Despite this, and a long period of stalled development under former site owner the Huntley Heritage Trust, VIG’s development director Richard Foley said his company was committed to making the plans a reality.
“The site has an approval for the golf course and some facilities, and it’s been rezoned to allow some residential,” he said.
“The next stage was to try and get detailed planning on the residential areas.”
He said the developers had been disappointed that the council has not engaged with the company about their housing plans before issuing a refusal.
“At the same time this was going on, we presented our new vision – because we’re in the business of hotels, and that’s what we’re good at,” he said.
“This vision is financially more sustainable, long term.”
He said the company was still in talks with the council and was planning to submit a master plan and rezoning proposal for the whole site – which includes two extra parcels of land it has acquired – by the end of this year.
“I felt the golf course was too tight in the approved scheme, you couldn’t do what you needed to do with the environment,” he said.
“[The new land] gave us the space to move some of the gold holes and relieve some of the pressure… to spread it out to allow for the set backs for riparian corridors.”
Mr Foley said the new plans would be low impact, and only build on the existing cleared areas.
“When you go up to the old mining platform you look out at the view, and you could be anywhere in the world with this view,” he said.
“Up there, our vision is for a six-star hotel, you’ll have villas, each with its own plunge pool and the best equality spa treatments in Australia.”
The master planning and rezoning will take at least a year, Mr Foley estimated, but said the company would ramp up work on areas of the golf course where it already has approvals.
He also said there had been “an extensive amount of work” done in the past few years on the mine rehabilitation.
VIG says the golf course will be finished by late 2019, with completion of the holes done in stages to allow them to be played.
Pending council approval, the first stage of the residential component should go on sale in Spring 2018, the developers said on Wednesday.