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Construction projects racing ahead, but cliff's edge not far away

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Major construction projects may be being fast-tracked amid a coronavirus-enabled building frenzy, but the industry is also racing towards a cliff’s edge.

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Without casino patrons to manage around ongoing construction, the $400 million Dorsett Hotel and Star residences on the Gold Coast is ahead of schedule.

With 316 hotel rooms and 423 apartments with direct access to The Star Casino, Star managing director Geoff Hogg this week revealed the project was expected to be completed earlier than planned for its opening in early 2022.

Elsewhere on the Gold Coast, the city’s new art gallery at Home of the Arts (HOTA) is also rising at rapid pace.

HOTA CEO Criena Gehrke confirmed the $60.5 million, six level, purpose-built art space would open early next year and be the largest gallery outside a major city in Australia.

And the $50 million Rydges-branded hotel at Gold Coast Airport is suddenly almost due for take-off.

Of greater significance to the city than just an airport hotel, the hotel precinct and plaza connecting to the expanded terminal will change the face of the airport and make it, as Gold Coast Airport CEO Chris Mills calls it, “a fitting gateway for the country’s premier tourism destination.”

The rush of accelerated building on the Gold Coast is representative of an industry that is in the midst of a rampaging burst of activity. But it is action that belies an impending crash.

Master Builders Queensland this week called for extra stimulus measures including a $40,000 homeowners’ grant for all new homes built as one measure that could prevent the construction industry smashing into a cliff face.

On the Gold Coast, Master Builders regional manager John Duncalfe called for local government to ready a “Plan B” that included council infrastructure charges relief for shovel-ready projects.

“Everybody is concerned about where we go next. Everything that is going at the moment was pre-COVID. We don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know what life after August or September is going to look like,” Duncalfe said.

He said both domestic and commercial projects were being put on hold.

“It’s due to the simple fact that we don’t know what the landscape is going to look like.

“Going forward will lending still be available and what will be the demand? When restrictions were on, there was a 90% drop in even virtual tours of display homes.

“Some of the commercial projects will get going. But they’re worried that we can build these things, but no-one’s going to buy them.”

Master Builders Queensland CEO Grant Galvin said measures contained in the Queensland Government’s $4 billion stimulus package released in March would help, but further “swift and urgent stimulus measures” were needed to counter the looming crisis faced by the building industry.

The latest report from Master Builders Australia, commissioned by Ernst & Young, found the proposed $40,000 homeowners’ grant would create benefits across Queensland as part of the broader package of stimulus.

“We anticipate more than 2270 new homes to be built, which would provide vital support for almost 200 construction businesses, many of them small businesses,” Galvin said.

“The grant alone could create almost 12,000 jobs – 3000 direct and almost 9000 indirect – and a boost of more than $3 billion to the Queensland economy.”

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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