Article | Future Cities

How CBRE Development & Infrastructure helped revive a century-old icon of Sydney Harbour

See how CBRE Development & Infrastructure helped transform White Bay Power Station into a place where today’s communities can thrive.

March 7, 2024

Aerial view of White Bay Power Station.

The iconic Sydney Harbour spans 55 square kilometres of Australia’s second largest city, showcasing some of the country’s most spectacular and renowned landmarks.  

Forty years after its decommissioning, the White Bay Power Station (WBPS), an iconic landmark situated a short three kilometres from the Sydney CBD, is being revived and made accessible for public enjoyment. This initial rehabilitation of the White Bay Power Station is the first of many stages, providing more public spaces for events and precinct activations, in support of the wider renewal of the Bays West Precinct. 

CBRE Development & Infrastructure (D&I) is playing a crucial role in White Bay Power Station’s transformation by delivering a successful and exciting destination where people and communities can thrive. 

Breathing new life into the White Bay Power Station 

With its close proximity to Sydney Harbour and its prominence next to the Anzac Bridge, White Bay Power Station’s prime location creates an ideal destination for activation. 

Constructed between 1913 and 1917 to support the city's expanding tram network, the century-old industrial site officially closed in 1983 and has remained non-operational since then. 

In March 2024, the site will once again open its doors as part of Sydney's 24th Biennale Festival. This major spectacle for art and ideas debuted in 1973 and has since grown to showcase the works of nearly 1,900 artists from more than 100 countries. Today, it is considered one of the leading international contemporary art events and is recognised for commissioning and presenting innovative, thought-provoking art from Australia and around the world. 

White Bay Power Station's Role in Sydney's 24th Biennale 

Control room at White Bay Power Station
Images: Chris Bennett Evolving Picture

A series of events and activations are being planned by the NSW state government to celebrate the Biennale, which will include free public entry into activated areas of White Bay Power Station. While significant restoration and revitalisation works have gone into making the site open to the public, its original features have been preserved, including the power station's Boiler Room and Turbine Hall, which are the building's focal points for this stage of activation. 

In April 1999, White Bay Power Station was listed on the State Heritage Register. Afterward, Placemaking NSW inherited ownership of the asset and assumed responsibility for maintaining the site. Years of water ingress, hazardous material degradation, pest and vermin infestations, and lack of maintenance since its decommissioning in 1983 led to a significant deterioration of the site. This proved to be a significant challenge in restoring the site and bringing it back to life. 

Taking on the bold challenge 

CBRE D&I's experienced, passionate, and diligent team were awarded the opportunity to take on the challenge of restoring a significant part of Sydney's history.  

"The immediate team was uniquely positioned to assist Placemaking NSW, drawing upon our experience within the site gained over several years of assisting the asset's owners," explains Bradley Perger, CBRE D&I's Project Manager. 

"The depth of our wider team also filled the gaps needed to support the client and maintain the site appropriately. The CBRE D&I team also offers a complete range of skill sets, from the development of the business cases required for funding through to the development of design, procurement of contractors, superintendency, and asset realisation." 

The site and its dilapidated state presented several unique challenges to the project team, including the navigation of the NSW Heritage-imposed constraints on remedial works. Working closely with Placemaking NSW, NSW Heritage created the opportunity to identify, successfully overcome, and implement the heritage requirements across the project. 

"And due to the vast open spaces remaining within the White Bay Power Station, access to the high-level and out-of-the-way spaces was difficult to achieve without using specialist height access equipment," Perger adds.  

“To combat the likelihood of latent conditions presenting during the works, the project team developed a master scope schedule of works that enabled a structured and fair assessment of scope change requirements. This gave confidence to both the contractor and client whenever latent conditions arose.” 

Defining CBRE D&I’s results-driven approach 

CBRE's diverse contribution to the building's revival is paramount in achieving the right outcome for partners and clients. 

"CBRE has been engaged at White Bay Power Station for nearly seven years, having been involved in an Asset Management role when the site was controlled by UrbanGrowth," says Perger. 

"Following the transition of responsibility to Placemaking NSW, the CBRE Development & Infrastructure team was engaged to complete a constructability risk assessment on critical structural and heritage remediation works. 

"Placemaking NSW then made the important decision to invest in the work required to maintain the State Heritage listed asset that was procured by, and is currently managed by, CBRE Development & Infrastructure. 

"These works have been completed in accordance with the site's Conservation Management Plan, ensuring the historic significance of the asset is maintained for years to come." 

These specific works involved: 

  1. Providing specialist advisory, development management, and project management services, with the objective of repairing the structure, protecting the heritage fabric, and remediating hazardous materials. 
  2. Completing a constructability risk assessment of the required remedial works, coordinated with the Conservation Management Plan, to enable the building to be made watertight, structurally sound, and free from hazardous materials. 
  3. Managing the design, authority approvals, contractor procurement, and delivery of these remedial works. 

Beyond the initial use of the site for the celebrations of the Biennale of Sydney, there could be further opportunities for CBRE D&I to showcase their expertise in ESG and Placemaking in the future. 

"The core project team has been managing the project's works for nearly five years. This brings with it a great level of continuity and foundational knowledge that can be drawn upon with each decision that is being made for the benefit of the immediate, and future projects," says Perger. 

"The NSW Government has announced that the White Bay Power Station will be opened to the public for arts and cultural events over the next few years. In the interim, we are proud to have supported Placemaking NSW with managing the completion of works for the temporary activation of the space for events like the Biennale Festival in March 2024.”  

Following the activation works, CBRE will represent Placemaking NSW as asset managers of the site, maintaining its condition and allowing its ongoing use. This will be key in enabling the ongoing celebration of such a significant transformation. 

Delivering real benefits to the community 

When it comes to benefits for the community, the revival of White Bay Power Station offers more than just a new space for placemaking – it’s a living, breathing walk down memory lane.   

“White Bay Power Station has sat idle and deteriorating for the past 40 years. Working closely with Placemaking NSW’s Heritage team, we have been able to not only halt that deterioration, but completely reinvigorate the building to enable public access,” says Perger.   

“The building is a history book telling stories of our past and of our awesome ability as humans. CBRE is proud to have been part of the team that has made it possible for the public to enjoy that.  

“While the end state of the White Bay Power Station is currently being assessed as part of the wider Bays West Masterplan, it will be exciting to see what the future holds for this beautiful part of Balmain and wider Sydney.” 

CBRE Development & Infrastructure: Your partner in creating thriving spaces for people  

CBRE D&I’s team were successful in managing several key, major stakeholders with interests in the project’s end goal and overall success. The teamwork and communication applied by the team has been integral in achieving and delivering the project's goals.  

“White Bay Power Station has been a unicorn project where every party to the contract has played according to the rules. There is an unspoken desire to see this building delivered correctly that sees the contractual or commercial disputes that often occur on projects left at the front gates,” says Perger.  

“Additionally, the project team have been able to capitalise on their continuous involvement across the project for an extended period to ensure all key stakeholders are involved and engaged appropriately. It has been crucial to map out and plan for potential changes, while working closely alongside the client to assess the effects on the project’s outcomes.  

“The intricacy of the work, the unique correlation between heritage remediation and compliant activation of spaces, and the strong relationships formed between the wider project team has uniquely set the team up to draw upon these learnt skills to the benefit of all future opportunities.”  

For Placemaking NSW, the major benefit came from the contract’s structure and use of a master scope schedule to manage the complexities stemming from a significant number of latent site conditions within the heritage building.  

“This highly effective tool in managing the latent risk of the project has provided certainty of cost for the client and a fair and predictable structure for the contractor. For the site team, any future project should be seamless,” says Perger.  

The completed revival of the White Bay Power Station will showcase CBRE D&I’s ability to see the bigger picture whilst managing, tracking, and successfully delivering each step along the way to accomplish any uniquely challenging development. 

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