The new CBD of Springfield City, the only city in Australia built from scratch after Canberra, is envisioned to be the next Silicon Valley, its master developer, Springfield City Group’s chairman Maha Sinnathamby tells Asian Property Review in an exclusive interview.
Text by Jan Yong
Photographs courtesy of Springfield City Group
“This Southeast Queensland project is huge and receives full support from the government,” enthuses Maha Sinnathamby as he talks excitedly about his pet project, one that has been ongoing for the last 30 years and continuing, possibly for another 15 years. Such is the vision of the man, who once studied under a kerosene lamp in his hometown in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. Maha is the Malaysia-born founder and chairman of Springfield City Group (SCG).
The journey has been long and full of challenges, yet Maha, an engineer by profession, managed to overcome the odds and has emerged as one of Australia’s richest men. But the 81-year-old billionaire is not resting on his laurels.
Even as the Covid-19 pandemic wrecks havoc across economies around the world, the tireless developer is looking far ahead to ensure that Springfield emerges as one of the best places to work and stay in Australia.
As master developer of Greater Springfield, he and his team are currently on a worldwide drive to attract world class developers to share in the legacy of building the city including the Central Business District (CBD), which is on track to be Brisbane’s second CBD.
Springfield is a massive project that is considered a nation-building project, endorsed by both the Australian Federal and Queensland State governments. It is the first and only master planned city in Australia since Canberra.
The government alone (both Federal and State) has spent about A$6.5 bil building the infrastructure including two railway lines connecting Springfield to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland state. “Brisbane, about 26km away, in fact is just next to Springfield and can virtually be considered an extension of Brisbane,” explains Maha. On its part, Springfield Group has spent about A$11.5 bil so far on the city, making it a total investment of A$18 bil.
The futuristic CBD is expected to have a future development value of A$15 bil while Greater Springfield is estimated to be worth in the region of A$88 billion when completed.
This next Silicon Valley-in-the-making is such a massive project that Maha and his team decided they would like to invite other parties to participate in it. In particular, they are looking for sufficiently large world class developers with the right knowhow that can add value to the land over time if they do it right, Maha lists out the qualifications. This would include all big cap developers from all over the world especially those which have expertise in building cities. Maha expects strong interest from Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
“The potential partner can even change the design or other aspects, if it can add more value, subject to our approval,” says Maha, adding that the partner can even bring in some of their supplies as well as talents. “Australia welcomes foreign talents as long as they are highly qualified professionals or have good trade skills. We are now in a strong drive to increase our brain bank. This is a golden opportunity for the foreign talents to obtain Australian permanent residency.”
According to the Springfield boss, Australia is now the most popular migration destination in the world “after Covid 19”.
Unlike Australia’s other cities that can sometimes be beset by unpredictable weather, Springfield enjoys a semi-tropical climate where even mango trees can thrive,” reveals Maha. “Come and see for yourself; and then you won’t want to go back,” says Maha in jest.
To support his view, the Springfield founder trots out the incoming population – the current population of 46,000 residents is estimated to nearly triple to 115,000 once the city is completed by 2036.
“This is larger than the population of Darwin. Most of these people will come mainly from areas within 30km radius,” he says, adding that the growth rate of 5.8% is considered tremendous by Australian standard whose population stands at 26 million.
“Furthermore, there is a tremendous amount of work available there. The unemployment rate is 3.9% compared to the national unemployment rate of 5%,” he further notes.
Potential IT hub
The Knowledge Precinct, covering an area of 119 ha is part of the Greater Springfield City which encompasses a total of 3,000 ha of freehold land. Currently, only about 25% has been developed since the past 30 years.
“It’s been recognised by the former prime minister of Australia as a project of national significance. There is nothing compared to it in Australia. It stands alone as a new city which Australia is proud of,” beams Maha. The masterplan has been approved for 2.685 mil sqm of mixed-use GFA and 22,855 apartments.
Apart from developers and capital providers, Springfield City is also looking for world class partners in health, education and IT.
“Fundamentally, this is a new city with IT at its core. These three areas, side by side,
will comprise the Knowledge Precinct with total development area of 1.22 mil sqm of commercial space on 119 ha of land.
“There is nothing quite like this on 119 ha of land anywhere in the world,” Maha observes, describing the potential IT hub as the “latest version of Silicon Valley or what we call IDEA city. IDEA stands for Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship and the Arts.”
Currently, Springfield City already has onboard Lendlease, Mirvac, Stockland, Mater Private Hospital, The University of Southern Queensland, Greg Norman Golf Course, and is expecting more world class companies to participate in the city’s growth.
Existing facilities now include 11 schools, both public and private within six suburbs, a private hospital, university, and TAFE campus, as well as a major shopping centre, Orion Springfield Central.
Global tender process
Moelis Australia is assisting SCG with a competitive global tender process, which will be led by the SCG Chairman, Maha Sinnathamby and Deputy Chairman, Bob Sharpless. SCG will commence initial discussions with interested parties in the coming weeks. An outcome and preferred partner will be announced in the coming months. There is no fixed closing date for submission of a tender.