The decade-long battle to transform Wollongong's western CBD

Skye Tower: Developers say they plan to begin building this 18-level complex by the end of 2018, with consutrction to finish in 2020.
Skye Tower: Developers say they plan to begin building this 18-level complex by the end of 2018, with consutrction to finish in 2020.

Yet another high-rise tower has been given the go-ahead for the western edge of the CBD, bringing the value of construction in the area to around $250 million.

The Sydney-based developers of the so-called “Skye Wollongong” tower, on the old Sam’s Warehouse site on Railway Street, have pledged to begin work by the end of the year.

Approved last Friday by the Southern Joint Regional Planning Panel, the building is the third design to be pitched for the vacant site since 2014.

Worth about $30 million, it will have 105 apartments and retail and commercial space over 18 levels.

Today, the site remains a construction zone, and – despite workers being on hand for many months – progress has been slow in transforming it from a hole in the ground.

Developer Eddy Haddad said his Sydney-based company, Level 33, had been fielding “a steady stream” of inquiries about buying the units, which would be up for sale “mid-year”.

Construction would begin “late in 2018” and be complete within two years, he said.

Just as delays and a change of plans and ownership have slowed the revitalisation of the vacant Sam’s Warehouse lot, progress on other developments approved in the area around the CBD’s highest hill has been notoriously slow over the past decade. 

The Mercury has counted at least six sites which remain empty or half finished despite approvals, some which have histories dating back to the end of the last decade, before the council’s sex for development scandal and global financial crisis plunged Wollongong construction into a funk.

For instance, an overhaul for the old Charcoal Tavern site at 10-18 Regent Street, was first tipped to invigorate the precinct in 2006, when developers pitched a 23-level building called Regency Towers.

Approved in 2009, the project collapsed soon afterwards before being revived in 2013, as a $70 million 25-storey hotel and residential complex, which was slated to be run by Mantra Group.

This changed in 2016, when developers abandoned their proposal for a hotel, and lodged a request to instead build the “Signature Apartments”.

Today, the site remains a construction zone, and – despite workers being on hand for many months – progress has been slow in transforming it from a hole in the ground.

Signature apartments: This site on Regent Street remains a construction zone, 12 years after plans for a high rise first appeared on Wollongong council's radar.

Signature apartments: This site on Regent Street remains a construction zone, 12 years after plans for a high rise first appeared on Wollongong council's radar.

The same is true at 373 Crown Street, known as Pinnacle On Crown, where a high-rise proposal surfaced in 2006 and was first approved in 2008. In 2014, the JRPP approved a series of changes to the plans, allowing for more units to be built. But the site remains under construction, with the hard underground rock evidently posing problems.

Down the hill, a hotel site approved in 2017 also promised “revitalisation and activation” but has now been listed for sale.

Celebrating the recent approval of the new Skye Tower, the developers have pointed to their track record in completing other Wollongong projects.

This includes a nine-storey apartment building on Auburn Street, and could soon include another project at the western edge of the city on Denison Street, they said.