What do you do with a huge site on the most prestigious boulevard of a capital city? A site where a public service was provided for a hundred years but has now come to an end. For Adelaide, the answer was to rethink the purpose, to scrub up the best of heritage and infuse it with the life of new industries and the vitality of a unique cultural experience. This is the plan for Lot Fourteen, former home of the Royal Adelaide Hospital on North Terrace. The heart of a neighbourhood positioned between universities, a new high school, galleries, prime retail and entertainment strips, sport stadiums and the peace of botanic gardens.
Backed by state, federal and local government and open for business to set up shop, Lot Fourteen is fast taking shape. It is the centrepiece of a $550 million City Deal investment. “It has the potential to drive massive investment, new jobs and business creation as well as providing a real focal point for visitors,” South Australian Premier Steven Marshall says. “We’ve been developing plans to transform the site into the most exciting urban development project in the country. The major focal point will be an innovation and entrepreneurship precinct for space, defence, cyber, machine learning and future industries. Our plan is to have more than 1000 people working there this year and, ultimately, more than 5000 on the site.”
Among a fleet of new enterprises from culture, learning, manufacturing, hospitality and tourism sectors, one of the first key tenants to anchor Lot Fourteen is the Australian Space Agency. It is being joined by the SmartSat CRC, which has raised $245 million for research and development since the International Astronautical Congress in 2018.
“Establishing the Australian Space Agency comes at a pivot point in the history of space,” Marshall says. “Satellite technology is becoming more affordable. We have real expertise in South Australia around nano-satellites, cubesats and small sats. Lot Fourteen will have manufacturing facilities for small satellites. One of the early tenants, Inovor, already has a contract to provide a satellite to CSIRO. It is the first of many as the world moves from large satellites to much smaller satellites operating in constellations.”
Another early tenant, Myriota, which provides low-cost satellite connectivity for the internet of things, is already scaling up with support of investors such as Boeing.The name Lot Fourteen derives from the original 1837 plan for Adelaide by surveyor-general Colonel William Light. This nod to history goes further with retention of the shells of architectural heritage-listed buildings on the site. And deeper into history with government investments of at least $150 million to build the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Gallery.
Another dimension to Lot Fourteen will be an International Centre for Tourism, Hospitality and Food Studies, a drawcard for international students. “We believe this will provide a new, state-of-the-art facility for a very significant industry education offer,” Marshall says. Development of Lot Fourteen comes amid positive economic indicators for the state. Trend unemployment is at 5.8 per cent. Business has absorbed the loss of automotive making and manufacturing is growing jobs. Population is increasing at a manageable pace, up just under 1 per cent, or 15,000 people, last year. Housing remains affordable and SA has defied the price plunge stripping wealth from homeowners in eastern states. Electricity prices are trending below other states and the energy system doesn’t miss a beat in terms of reliability.
Lot Fourteen will complement existing innovation precincts at Tonsley, Waite, Technology Park and Mawson Lakes, as well as defence facilities at Osborne and Edinburgh. The site will connect to fibre optic network Ten Gigabit Adelaide, the fastest citywide data network in Australia. “Interestingly, our site is not being curated by government or the university sector but rather by our Chief Entrepreneur Jim Whalley,” Marshall says. “He is the founder and chair of Nova Systems, a global aerospace consulting company. Our aim is for him to curate a site which will have undergraduates, postgraduates, global companies, start-ups, scale-ups, government departments.
There is nothing like this in Australia. Of course, many states have start-up hubs but what we’re creating is a 7ha precinct right in the centre of our city which will create opportunities for spontaneous interaction between participants in these exciting future industries.”
The University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning will occupy one of the refurbished heritage buildings. Innovation hub Stone & Chalk will spearhead support and mentoring for start-ups and scale-ups, while a government-backed Defence and Space Landing Pad will give rent-free offices and advisory services to foreign companies wanting a first-hand look at SA.Already on site are a bunch of new companies with global potential including Presagen, Daitum, Chamonix, Neumann Space and a stable of firms headed by entrepreneur Anton Andreacchio. Industry group Defence Teaming Centre is there.
A new tower building will be erected in the middle of the site as home to innovation companies, and the public will be welcomed into the site with rolling events and activities.The Australian Space Agency will manage a Mission Control Centre where the public can view operators at work, unless a commercially confidential project is in progress. The space agency is working with science educator Questacon to build a Science Discovery Centre with permanent and occasional exhibitions aimed at young people and the broader public.
Treasurer Rob Lucas, who has been persuaded to open the purse strings in tight Budgetary times, says hosting the Australian Space Agency at Lot Fourteen is a “totemic investment” for the state. He adds that building the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Gallery “will require courage from the government and community”.“It’s not just an art project, it’s not just an important indigenous project. From my viewpoint with my Treasurer’s hat on, it is critically an economic driver, critically a job driver project for the state.”Demolition works to clear space for the gallery and architectural designs are still in progress but Lucas assures us it will have “a little bit of a ‘wow’ factor”.