Bungled Brisbane high-rise project that brought down Probuild

A luxury apartment building billed as ‘Brisbane’s first world-class tower’ has instead put one of Australia’s biggest building companies on the verge of collapse.

Construction on the 443 Queen Street in the heart of Brisbane came to a standstill on Wednesday afternoon after Probuild called in administrators.

Tradies and contractors are owed tens of millions and 750 employees could lose their jobs if the company can’t be saved.

The firm claimed on Thursday it was ‘caught up in a set of circumstances not of our making’ and confirmed they were working to ensure it would ‘raise the necessary capital’ to survive.

Construction on the doomed Queen Street tower began with high hopes in May 2018, promising luxury living and innovative design the first of its kind.

The luxury new apartment building on 443 Queen Street, pinned as ‘Brisbane’s first world class tower’, has instead seen construction giant Probuild on the verge of collapse

Renderings from Architectus and Singapore design firm WOHA, the companies commissioned to design the tower, give an insight into the project that advertised ‘absolute views’ from every apartment of Brisbane River.

Vertical gardens were to cover its exterior, with clever architecture projecting natural light and ventilation throughout the building, capped off by an infinity pool overlooking the CBD.

The 264-apartment twin towers were suppose to be a great engineering achievement, combining the use of natural materials and energy saving designs with stunning practical and aesthetic features.

Due to be completed later this year, 443 Queen sits between Brisbane’s Customs House and a heritage listed park, which CBRE Residential Projects managing director Paul Barratt said created an ‘island site’ for the building.

‘443 Queen St celebrates high-rise living in a way never before experienced in Australia,’ promotional text for the construction read.

The 264-apartment building was to feature natural materials and finishings unique to each home, creating a personalised touch for residents

The 264-apartment building was to feature natural materials and finishings unique to each home, creating a personalised touch for residents

443 Queen also featured a 'recreation level' that features an infinity pool, yoga lawns, views of the Brisbane River, breakaway cabanas and a 'world class gym'

443 Queen also featured a ‘recreation level’ that features an infinity pool, yoga lawns, views of the Brisbane River, breakaway cabanas and a ‘world class gym’

Two prestigious international architectural practices collaborated on an ‘elegant and ground-breaking design that sets a new benchmark for the subtropics’.   

Architectus said it was particularly proud of the gardens to be planted throughout the development, with its density of landscaping ‘twice that of a natural park’. 

‘Imagine coming in to this foyer through a garden space, up in the lift and arriving in the ‘arrival gardens’ at the level of your apartment, with a transcendant view of the river on one side and the city on the other,’ director Elizabeth Brown said.

‘In a way you’ll be walking through a garden path to your private front door, walking past a maximum of two other doors.’

The building was designed so every apartment would be blanketed by natural light, with two light wells running down the centre of the complex

The building was designed so every apartment would be blanketed by natural light, with two light wells running down the centre of the complex

Architectus, the firm commissioned to design 443 Queen, said they wanted residents to feel like they were living in their own house within the building

Architectus, the firm commissioned to design 443 Queen, said they wanted residents to feel like they were living in their own house within the building

Renderings from Architectus and Singapore-based design practice WOHA give an insight into the doomed project that promised 'absolute views' from every apartment of Brisbane River

Renderings from Architectus and Singapore-based design practice WOHA give an insight into the doomed project that promised ‘absolute views’ from every apartment of Brisbane River

She said the mission of 443 Queen was to give residents a feeling of owning their own house within a building, offering private entries and personalised finishings. 

‘The luxury here is the ability to live in these apartments in the way you would live in a beautiful house. We’ve been very careful with the design of these apartments to use natural materials,’ Ms Brown said.

‘The timber handles, bespoke handles like the kind of details you would find in an individually designed house.’

The tower was also to include a ‘recreation level’, offering stunning views of the Brisbane River, Story Bridge and Kangaroo Point.

A 25m lap pool would overlook the water, with breakaway cabanas, yoga lawns, and a ‘world-class gym’.

The tower was also set to feature its own 'recreation level', offering stunning views of the Brisbane River, Story Bridge and Kangaroo Point

The tower was also set to feature its own ‘recreation level’, offering stunning views of the Brisbane River, Story Bridge and Kangaroo Point

Each apartment at 443 Queen would have 'absolute views' of the Brisbane River and its own private entry through 'welcome gardens'

Each apartment at 443 Queen would have ‘absolute views’ of the Brisbane River and its own private entry through ‘welcome gardens’

Aussie firm Architectus were particularly proud of the gardens situated throughout the development, with its density of landscaping 'twice that of a natural park'

Aussie firm Architectus were particularly proud of the gardens situated throughout the development, with its density of landscaping ‘twice that of a natural park’

The design of the two towers planned to capture and project light through shared spaces to significantly reduce energy consumption.

A study from City of Sydney found 60 per cent of energy costs in residential buildings comes from shared spaces, so 443 Queen architects planned to incorporate open designs to reduce prices.

Two light wells running through the middle of the building would give natural light and ventilation for the lobby, carpark, and each apartment. 

CBUS property development manager Michelle Fitzgerald described 443 Queen as the firm’s ‘first premium residential project in Brisbane’.

Instead, the grandiose building became a millstone around Probuild’s neck. 

The firm raked in $1.3 billion in revenue and made $4 million profit last year, but the project haemorrhaged as much as $120 million.

Workers at the site said construction was plagued by delays for the past two years and contractors were owed unpaid bills of up to $250,000.

The riverfront complex has been touted as the nation's first subtropical designed building

The riverfront complex has been touted as the nation’s first subtropical designed building

Australian building giant Probuild has been placed into voluntary administration with hundreds of jobs set to be lost and thousands of contractors left hanging

Australian building giant Probuild has been placed into voluntary administration with hundreds of jobs set to be lost and thousands of contractors left hanging

PROBUILD PROJECTS 

Victoria Police HQ (46 levels)

CSL global HQ (18 levels), Melbourne

Exchange at Curtin University 

Greenland Centre, Sydney’s tallest residential building

VUT Building (29 levels) Melbourne

UNO Melbourne (65 levels)

Caulfield Village

The Ribbon Darling Harbour – W Hotel and Imax Cinema

443 Queen Street, Brisbane

Wyndham City Stadium, Tarneit, VIC

In a statement, the company said accounting company Deloitte will serve as administrators after parent group WBHO withdrew financial assistance. 

A Probuild spokesman said: ‘We are caught up in a set of circumstances not of our making.

‘We are working closely with the administrator on a number of plans to protect our clients, subcontractors and employees.

‘The Probuild brand is strong and we intend to keep it that way. We have several options for raising the necessary capital to continue as a premium Australian building company. These will all be pursued.’ 

Deloitte has taken control of Probuild’s 18 different developments, worth $5billion, which employ hundreds of workers and a network of tradies across the country.

A $300million deal to sell Probuild to a Chinese company was axed a year ago after treasurer Josh Frydenburg stepped in to veto it on the grounds of national security. 

The company is said to have been locked into huge fixed-price contracts based on pre-Covid costs – but has been hit by massive price rises since signing the deals.

The cost increases – including materials, employment and Covid shutdown expenses and protocols – wiped out profit margins and left many developments running at a huge loss. 

Eight Probuild-named companies have been taken over by Deloitte but associated companies WHBO Infrastructure, Contexx, Prodev Murphy, Monaco Hickey, Northcoast Holdings and Carr Civil Contracting. 

Worksites around the country have been locked down, with many tradies unable to even access their tools trapped inside

Worksites around the country have been locked down, with many tradies unable to even access their tools trapped inside

The 264 high-quality residential apartments (pictured) in Brisbane's Queen Street has haemorrhaged as much as $120million

The 264 high-quality residential apartments (pictured) in Brisbane’s Queen Street has haemorrhaged as much as $120million

Tradies were seen packing up and taking their equipment off the site on Wednesday after being told it would be shut down at 5pm.

‘We were just told to pick out tools up because Probuild were pulling the pin on all their projects across Australia,’ one told the Courier Mail.  

A tradie said the company he works for is owed at least $250,000, while other sub-contractors are believed to be owed significantly more.

‘It is going to run into the millions what tradies are owed,’ he said. 

The shutdown comes after its South African parent company Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon, based in Johannesburg, pulled further funding after project costs blew out.

Probuild raked in $1.3billion in revenue last year – but made just $4million profit, and is now said to be facing losses running into hundreds of millions.

In a statement, the company said accounting company Deloitte will serve as administrators after parent group WBHO withdrew financial assistance.

In 2016 there was a petition started by local residents to have the construction banned, while Customs House took the developers to court.

The 47-storey building is built on top of the iconic site, angering the Protect Customs House Precinct action group who got nearly 1,000 signatures due to fears it could damage it. 

‘The planning scheme’s 25-metre setback requirement was meant to preserve the very important views of Customs House when viewed by the public from Queen Street,’ the university’s property and facilities director Alan Egan said.

‘The inadequate setback also leads to a need for the partial removal of a glorious old fig tree that is more than 100 years old.’ 

Developers won the approval, before the University of Queensland appealed.

The Planning and Environment Court dismissed the appeal and construction began two years later.  

CHINESE SALE AXED BY AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT 

A $300million deal to sell Probuild to a Chinese company was axed a year ago after treasurer Josh Frydenburg stepped in to veto it on the grounds of national security. 

With Probuild’s Australian projects including the new Victoria Police HQ and biotech firm CSL’s Australian HQ, the government blocked China State Construction Engineering Corporation’s bid because of its links to the Chinese defence industry. 

The government said the sale was against the national interests and added: ‘Probuild was a significant player in a sector that was critical to the country’s economic and social wellbeing.’

Probuild reacted furiously to the government intervention in January 2021, which could have been a vital lifeline to safeguard its future.

‘It’s more politics than it is anything else,’ Probuild executive chairman Simon Gray said at the time. 

‘No one can give us real reason why we’re a national security risk. It’s a joke.’

Probuild Constructions (Aust) reportedly injected $15 million into the company last year as part of a recapitalisation to combat the Queensland division’s losses. 

The company, which operates in Victoria, NSW, Western Australia, and Queensland, has more than 750 employees and thousands of apartments currently under construction.

The bulk of the projects, which also includes more than 370,000 square metres of retail work, are in Melbourne where the head office is based.

Probuild is currently developing a new 18-storey block in Melbourne’s Elizabeth North, which will be the new headquarters of biotech giant CSL.

It is also the firm behind the 1000 Latrobe office tower in the Docklands and a build-to-rent development at Caulfield Village.

In Sydney, the company is building W Hotel on Darling Harbour and an apartment complex in Macquarie Park.

Construction is also underway in Perth for The Towers at Elizabeth Quay. 

Daily Mail Australia has contacted Probuild, CBUS Property and Architectus for comment.         

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10544711/Bungled-Brisbane-high-rise-project-brought-Probuild.html

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