The Sydney Story: Darling Harbor

by Martin Millspaugh

Darling Harbor - Sydney, AustraliaThe Baltimore Renaissance was started in the 1960's to reverse the decline of the Central Business District and redevelop the decayed and abandoned old Inner Harbor. The blocks surrounding the harbor basin were revitalized with headquarters office buildings, and the shoreline was renewed as a playground for Baltimoreans. Major attractions were added in the 1970's, and by the 1980's, the Inner Harbor was attracting an attendance of more than 20 million residents and visitors.

This was a new idea in the 1970's, but with the Inner Harbor and Fells Point put together, within two years the news about the Baltimore phenomenon had spread to other cities - helped along by publicity in the professional planning magazines and a report in the New York Times -- after the opening of the Aquarium in 1981-- that the Inner Harbor was drawing more people than DisneyWorld.

At Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management, Inc., the non-profit corporation that had been created to direct the redevelopment program, we began to be inundated by city planners, officials and business leaders from other cities in the U.S. and overseas. They wanted to know how the Baltimore Renaissance was brought about, and what parts of it they could put to use back home.

In October of 1983, I received a phone call from a gentleman named Tom Hayson in Sydney, Australia, saying that he had been reading about Baltimore's Inner Harbor in the Sydney Morning Herald describing Martin Millspaugh as President of the “Charles Centre and Inner Harbour Management, Inc.” Tom was planning a round-the-world trip in order to learn how Darling Harbour in Sydney could be redeveloped, and he wanted to know whether we could get together if he came to Baltimore. I told him of course I would be glad to see him, and he and his wife, Ngaire, arrived in Baltimore a few weeks later.

The reason Tom wanted to see Baltimore was that his real estate development firm, the Hayson Group of Companies, Ltd., had purchased the huge Sydney Wool Stores -- the former warehouses where the Australian wool had been stored while waiting to be put on ships. By the 1980's, the wool was no longer stored, but was being taken directly to the ships, and the Wool Stores stood empty and obsolete.

The Hayson Group saw that those warehouses formed one entire side of the wall of buildings enclosing the old Sydney port area known as Darling Harbour. The similarity of that space to Baltimore's Inner Harbor was striking. Like the Inner Harbor, Darling Harbour had been vacated by deep-sea shipping when the container ships took over. In addition, the shoreline of Darling Harbour was occupied by a former railroad yard which also stood vacant and obsolete, like the Wool Stores. The Haysons realized that the whole area was ripe for redevelopment by a combination of public and private investment.

Tom felt this offered an opportunity to create a “people place” for Sydney's celebration of the Australian Bicentennial Anniversary in 1988. The local government of New South Wales had lost the competition to create a World Expo to Brisbane, and they were determined to impress the World in some other way at the time of the Bicentennial.

Tom's company had previously specialized in the restoration and recycling of urban residential buildings. The Australian real estate industry knew little about “people places,” or how to create them; so in typical Tom Hayson fashion, he set out to go around the world to see what sort of things had been done in other cities with similar opportunities.

Tom and Ngaire arrived at our house one evening on their return trip to Australia. It was dinnertime, and my wife, Meredith, and I took them to the restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency Hotel - with the best view in Baltimore. It was a lovely snowy evening that created a warm feeling of friendship, which Tom and I both remember today. Meredith owned a VIP visitor tour business at the time, and the following day she and I showed Tom and Ngaire the Inner Harbor - first from my office on the 14th floor of the World Trade Center, and then the major projects on the ground -- the attractions that were responsible for the City's new spirit of pride and millions of dollars of income from the tourism industry.

By afternoon, Tom's extraordinary natural enthusiasm had taken over. After seeing how the two pavilions of Harborplace acted as a catalyst for the entire ”critical mass” of many attractions, Tom was determined to meet Jim Rouse. I called Jim and he was booked up, but he made an exception for some one who had come so far. Tom and I met with Jim for an hour or so in his new city of Columbia, halfway between Baltimore and Washington.

The next day, Tom and Ngaire left for the long trip back to Australia, but he telephoned me during a stop in Los Angeles to say, “Martin...Baltimore is the answer. After going around the World to see all of the best cities, I know that what we need to do in Sydney is what you and Jim and the others have done in Baltimore.” He invited me and Meredith to come to Sydney for ten days, to talk to the Government and the real estate establishment there about Master Planning and the implementation process that had produced the success of Charles Center and the Inner Harbor.

Tom said he would send two first class, round-trip tickets, but Sydney was then so far away that hardly any one in Baltimore had ever been there, and I thought that would probably never happen. Nevertheless, about the first of March, an envelope arrived in the mail from Qantas, and off we went. I learned that it was typical of Tom to make extravagant promises ... and then live up to them every time.

During our visit, Tom launched a consummate public relations blitz to impress the decision-makers in Sydney. He made arrangements for me to appear on the Australian TV “Today Show” and the “Good Morning Sydney” show, and to give a lecture sponsored by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects; plus press interviews at the top of a building overlooking Darling Harbour; a press conference announcing Tom's plans for the Wool Stores; a reception for assorted VIP's and opinion leaders (including the skipper of the Australian yacht that had just won the America's Cup), and a ceremonial reception by the Lord Mayor at the Town Hall.

By the end of a week, Tom's not-so-subtle campaign had convinced the Government's top city planners to meet with us and to see the slide presentation, called “City Alive,” which I had created to document the Charles Center-Inner Harbor story for planners and officials from other cities who wanted to emulate the Baltimore experience.

Meredith and I spent the second weekend at a penthouse with a swimming pool on top of the Hayson Group's apartment building in Surfers' Paradise - the first luxury high-rise on the Gold Coast reaching northward from Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef. (While there, we were treated to the experience of witnessing a typhoon swirling around us on the 34th floor).

On the last day we returned to Sydney for a meeting with Laurie Brereton, the Government's Cabinet Minister for Public Works, Roads and Ports. He would be in charge of the Bicentennial Celebration, and he had been persuaded to see us by Tom Hayson's blitz of public and private promotion. Brereton's office had scheduled 30 minutes, but he became fascinated with the Baltimore story and we spent 60 minutes before he would allow us to leave.

Tom was determined to persuade the Government of New South Wales to develop a “people place” in Darling Harbour, but the great hurdle that faced them was the timing: they would have to create in four years the same kind of project that took 15 years to develop in Baltimore.

But they had advantages: I could tell them honestly that they had a chance to do it in four years, because (1) the former railroad yard that made up the shoreline of Darling Harbour was already owned by the government, thus saving years that would have been required for property acquisition and relocation of the existing occupants, and (2) the government had already appropriated the necessary $200 million in public funds, eliminating years of planning analysis, political decisions and documentation.

Tom Hayson picked up that argument by pointing out that in Baltimore there was a model already in existence - showing them what to plan for and how to deliver it. The obvious conclusion, he told the government, was that the Baltimore development team was essential to advise and assist in that task.

By this time, Jim Rouse had retired from The Rouse Company to form the Enterprise Foundation and its Development Company. Tom Hayson and I had agreed that Jim should also visit Sydney - a great man and a great city - but Jim had declined when Tom asked him about it back in Columbia. While I was in Sydney, I learned that Jim was going to give a talk in Hawaii. I realized he would be halfway there, and maybe I could persuade him to go the rest of the way. I did that, by calling him on the phone from our room in the Regent Hotel, overlooking the Sydney Harbour, and describing the fascination of the scene that was spread out below, with a gleaming white cruise ship docking at the base of the skyscrapers of the CBD.

I remember saying, “Jim, any one who loves cities as much as you do has got to come see this place.” He took me at my word and in May he made the trip to Sydney. He gave a lecture sponsored by the Royal Institute and attended by 700 of the city's leading citizens. It was followed up by extensive press interviews describing Jim's reputation as a uniquely creative developer and his trailblazing philosophy of benevolent capitalism.

Shortly after that, Tom called me to say he had managed to persuade the Government to retain Enterprise as a consultant to the Hayson Group -- to prepare the original concept of a Master Plan for Darling Harbour. I was still President and Chief Executive of CC-IH, Inc., but I called Jim and Aubrey Gorman, who was then President of the Enterprise Development Company, from an isolated telephone booth next to a highway leading to our vacation spot in the Poconos. Over the phone I negotiated an agreement between Enterprise and the Hayson Group of Companies, which Jim later confirmed in a two-and-a-half page letter to Tom.

The Government committed $25,000 for Mort Hoppenfeld, Enterprise's chief urban planner, to go to Australia and show the Government planners how the Master Plan should work. After his first trip, Mort reported back to us that the Sydney Government's idea of a plan was unworkable. He and Jim and I met around my dining room table and worked over a new conceptual master plan that Mort had developed in Sydney.

In the meantime, the Premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran, had appointed Laurie Brereton as the member of his Cabinet to be czar of the Darling Harbour undertaking, moving it out of the hands of the City Council. Brereton decided he should see for himself what had been done in Baltimore.

He and his wife, Trish, came to Baltimore, and Jim, Aubrey, Mort and I took them to the top of the Hyatt for cocktails. From there the nighttime view of the entire Inner Harbor area and the skyline are at their best, and Mort laid his conceptual plan on the coffee table for Laurie Brereton to see. He was put off at first by the criticism of his Government's plan, but he quickly saw the merit of Mort's version, and then and there the Master Plan for Darling Harbour was set.

The saga of the Master Plan was complete when Mort made another trip to Sydney to show the new conceptual Master Plan to the Premier. With Brereton's support, the Premier was also convinced, and said he would approve the plan. Mort said, “well then, sign it now,” and the Premier did sign it and it became official. It is reproduced in a photograph in the Tom Hayson biography, “Dare to Dream,” written by Kevin Perkins in 2001.

Even so, the story of Darling Harbour took a rocky route from that point forward. The Opposition Party to the Government of New South Wales attacked it vigorously as a “white elephant” dreamed up by Wran's Labor Party Government. That gave the tabloid newspapers the ammunition to write stories based on critical and damaging assumptions, which later turned out to be untrue. The architecture and planning establishment resented the choice of an American company to create the Master Plan; so the detailed design and planning was turned over to Sydney architects.

Premier Wran's Labor Party Government created a Darling Harbour Authority to legalize the exclusion of the City Council. This put in place a “delivery system” like the Charles Center-Inner Harbor Corporation in Baltimore, but it meant the Haysons' role was diminished to that of any other private developer. They were required to enter a competition for the rights to develop the festival marketplace, which was to be fashioned in the image of Baltimore's Harborplace.

The Hayson and Enterprise team was awarded the rights to develop the festival marketplace, to be called Darling Harbourside. That launched them into the monumental task of producing a pioneering, high-risk, complex “place-making” project, while the Authority set about the task of producing $500 million of Government buildings and infrastructure, including the harbor parks and promenade, a Convention and Exhibition Center, a maritime museum, aquarium and the roads and bridges to make them accessible to millions of visitors by January of 1988 - the Australian Bicentennial - less than four years off.

By then I had moved from the Charles Center-Inner Harbor public-private partnership to join Jim Rouse in the Enterprise Development Company as, first, Executive Vice President and later President, and Tom retained Enterprise as a “Consultant-Developer” to partner with him and his son, Ian, in the Hayson Group of Companies.

During the next 3 ½ years, Jim and I talked constantly on the phone with Tom and Ian and their project manager, Pat Gocher. We corresponded with Brereton to flesh out the Master Plan, and Bob Barron, the Chief Financial Officer of Enterprise, and I went to Australia to negotiate the land development agreement with the Darling Harbour Authority. The visits of our specialists who knew how to merchandise and design a festival marketplace were equally important. Tom and Ian assembled a blue-ribbon team of their own. Their specialists who had the critical job of leasing the marketplace came to the U.S., where they were trained at Enterprise projects by our people, headed by Bowie Arnot, who had leased most of the Harborplace project in Baltimore.

We had come to feel that another critical ingredient of such a project is the merchandising mix - the selection and the space layout of many small shops and restaurants and low-keyed leisure attractions. In order to achieve the festival character in Darling Harbourside, we had the Enterprise merchandising team of Michael McCall and Gary King work with Bob Perry of the Haysons' architects, Clarke, Perry and Blackmore, and educate them in the basics of merchandising and space planning of a festival marketplace.

When the Grand Opening was finally scheduled, the Sydney choice for General Manager of the marketplace was unable to proceed; so Enterprise's Chief Property Manager, Vann Massey, went to Sydney for two months to open the project and supervise its operation through the critical first few weeks.

During its development, Darling Harbour went through many more controversies between the warring political parties, and even the union workers -- whose party was in power - almost scuttled the whole undertaking by staging unauthorized, wildcat walkouts and work stoppages to exact more pay from the government at a time when the deadline was running out.

Somehow, through superhuman, very tense (and therefore un-Australian) efforts, the job was done. The Darling Harbour “people place” staged a “soft,” but celebrated opening on the anniversary of the Bicentennial on January 22, 1988. By May of that year, the finishing touches had been put into place, and Darling Harbourside was ready to be officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II when she made a State visit to Australia.

In the end, Darling Harbourside looks a great deal like Harborplace in Baltimore, with the addition of a great vaulted glass Galleria joining the two marketplace pavilions. Darling Harbour as a whole also resembles the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, except that it faces toward the CBD skyscrapers instead of away from them. Unlike the decision to reroute the I-95 expressway away from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the expressway was retained in Sydney, crossing above the entire Darling Harbour project. Actually, it became something of an asset because it is so high in the air that the people below are unaware of it - except as a source of shade during the hot Sydney summers.

The senior Enterprise team went to Australia for the opening by the Queen. Tom Hayson stole the show when he conducted the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh through the festival marketplace prior to their appearance on a balcony overlooking the Promenade, where thousands of Sydney residents were gathered to honor the Queen. When the loudspeakers thundered out the announcement of the arrival of “Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh,” she emerged onto the balcony escorted by Tom Hayson. The crown roared, and Tom acquired photographic evidence of a once-in-anyone's lifetime photo op.

The rest of Darling Harbour's history has been similar to the beginning. Its fate has gone up and down in the face of political crises and the up-and-down cycles of the real estate business, such as the worldwide real estate depression of 1989-90, but it survived to become the most visited building in Australia - with an annual attendance reaching 14 million - and it was instrumental in the choice of Sydney as the site of the summer Olympic Games of 2000.

Nick Greiner, the leader of the Liberal Opposition Party who had vigorously fought the creation of Wran's bicentennial project in 1984, was Premier when the Olympics decision was made. He said, “I would not have bid for the 2000 Games if Sydney had not had Darling Harbour.”