Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Southern Cross Hotel,Resort Hotel

Southern Cross Hotel,Resort Hotel

We returned to Sydney and moved into a townhouse in Neutral Bay. Jazz was now four and I was "shacking branches" looking for work.I had had enough of restaurants, bars, booze the late nights,  closing down the property, and putting everyone to bed, had taken its toll on the both of us and we were ready for a break.Our main priority was Jazz , who was enrolled into SCEGGS Redlands pre school at Cremorne.

I did some consulting work with Ian Ferrier of Ferrier Hodgson who were corporate recovery experts and who I had previously done some work for. Ian was personally advising the Fink Family in Melbourne, who owned the Southern Cross Hotel and  he retained me to do an interior audit on the property which in 1990 was looking tired and in need of a face lift. I went down there over  three weekends and reported on the  state and condition of the rooms, public spaces and the general atmosphere, ambiance and joie de vivre.

The Southern Cross was not an architectural gem like the Windsor Hotel or the Old Australian Hotel in Sydney. Built in 1962 in the modern style, it was a fifteen level building on Bourke Street with a plaza and shopping arcade on the bottom levels.However it had garnered it's place in Melbourne's Hospitality  History and society circles with the first Kosher Kitchen installed in the city. It had been home to every visiting celebrity to visit Melbourne during it's halcyon period,the Brownlow Medal count, Logie  Awards and society weddings.




 The property had a sombre atmosphere and needed "lightening up". It needed a major refurbishment , to shake it to its foundations. To re-image the property, to bring it up to date, to enable it to compete with the new ones opened or about to, such as the Grand Hyatt and the Rialto.

New concepts had to be contemplated for the restaurants and bars and front of house, with new structural changes to the plaza, shopping arcade and external facade.A contemporary decorative and creative brush was needed in the rooms and health centre with a fired up marketing strategy implemented and launched to the city. The only elements to be kept was the bones of the structure and the name.

I tend to think there was not the energy or the will with the owners to take on such a task.The chore of architects, interior designers and consultants elaborating on their schemes, ideas  with the fit out and construction costs  north of $50m,may have been to daunting ! Why not sell it and move on? Which is what they did. 

This was not the philosophy of my next consultancy, which was with the Resort Hotel Group (RHG) who managed then 'the Resort Hotel', now called Novotel on Botany Bay at Brighton Le Sands.

I was introduced to this group (RHG), just prior to it's parent company Dainford Holdings Limited going into the hands of the receivers Prentice Parbery and Barilla (PPB). Dainford Holdings Limited, a public company listed on the Sydney Stock Exchange, were large developers,constructing high rise home units  in Sydney and Surfers Paradise since the seventies.

During the nineties they  commenced  a hotel group - Resort Hotels - building four and five star hotels. The largest and most ambitious hotel in the group, was being built on the shores of Botany Bay close to the airport.'The Resort Hotel' had cost $165m to build,with three hundred rooms, convention centre, shopping centre and office tower and a three level underground carpark for 400 vehicles.



The hotel  had not been completed when I joined up.The two top levels of accommodation had not been fitted out and brought into the hotel's inventory. A defects and rectification programme  had not been installed .Only one level of car parking was in use. The hotel was open and receiving paying guests. 

My task was to assist with completing the hotel to an international hotel status.Employ and manage a maintenance team to rectify the defects throughout the complex.Negotiate and renew  preventative maintenance contracts with suppliers such as air conditioning, elevators,escalators, cleaners and form up the property service division for the complex. 

This job was the biggest 'can of worms' I had taken on. By the timeI had finished there were nearly as many consultants and tradespeople retained, fixing remedial work, as hotel employees !! My job was to be there for 3-4 months and then i was to go the Bondi Hotel and perform a similar task there. This was not to be. Due to shoddy workmanship, inappropriate interior design and fit out  and the take over by the receivers PPB. I ended up being involved from January '91 to June'93.

Though I had a job description, the hotel determined the work to be done. As over a period of time, one task led to another, to another, non of them envisaged in a newly built hotel or in my job description.

One was water penetration. The housemaids started to report on their room cleans, after storms - certain rooms had sodden carpets. Because of the design of the hotel,called a Ziggurat - a pyramidal structure with a flat top. The hotel caught all the prevailing winds and rainfall from all points of the compass. Being brutally exposed as the building was to Botany Bay - what happened was; the wind driven rain penetrated under the concrete hobs that the sliding glass doors were fitted onto.During construction they did not seal the balconies with a waterproofing membrane and there was little fall. .

The final count  was one  hundred and nineteen  rooms that had water penetration.
To rectify the problem, we had to jackhammer all the tiles up on the balconies, some were the size of Squash Courts, and lay a waterproofing membrane and then retile the balconies again. 

This was not as simple as that,  the hotel was marketing itself to all the airlines as a airport hotel. So  when the airline company came to inspect the hotel, all work had to stop. So as to give the impression the hotel construction works was completed.Then when the Aircrew stayed, some slept during the day, meaning - we could not jack hammer at those times. Hence the the job took three times longer than normal and cost more.


Another 'out of the blue' job was sound proofing. Forty five rooms were designated for air crew on the western side of the property. The hotel was in the flight path for inward flights to Kingsford Smith Airport, aircraft noise for aircrew had to be minimised so another $.5m had to be found to double glaze the rooms.

Another job not foreseen was the marble tiles spitting from the columns in the lobby. Sometimes I  would receive a call from  the receptionists at the front desk - who'd say "Tony there was a huge smash somewhere in the lobby" which was a two level atrium with a soaring ceiling.On investigation we would find smashed marble tiles on the marble floor. These tiles would have fallen about 25 feet off the columns and walls if they fell on someone could kill them. The reason for this occurring was according to the experts three fold - 

  • The builders, which was Dainford Construction, had not cut construction and expansion joints through the building, and in the summer heat as the building moved, it was spitting these large beige marble tiles off the columns.
  • Or the adhesive used by the tilers was faulty.
  •  or there was subsidence in the building as it was built on sand. So we had to re tile all the columns of which there were dozens and all about six meters high and wall sections.


Each month the bank, Westpac and Max Prentice, the receiver, called a board meeting to which I reported to a wide eyed, astonished group of bankers. The new findings and additional costs for remedial works just kept on multiplying as more works kept on being pile onto my desk. 

Then there was the interior decor of the public areas on level three, such as the restaurants of which there were two :  the Baygarden  a two hundred seater that specialised in a la carte and buffet service, the other, I forget it's name, as it did not last long -. was fine dining and silver service. There was a large circular licensed bar which had a nautical theme.

The owners had imposed a European style of decor ; gilt mirrors, faux antique furniture,floral wallpapers, chandeliers, plastic statues, gilded ceiling cornices all which was at odds with the hotels location on Botany Bay and the name  Resort Hotel..which prompted Leo Schofield a Sydney food and hospitality critic to comment "... had I been told that the entire scheme had been the work of Nick Scali on an acid trip, I would not have been at all surprised"

Some of the criticism was a bit harsh.Architecturally the hotel had a good layout,the third level was quite dynamic  with it's indoor outdoor swimming pool,  health spa, gymnasium  tennis court, bars and restaurants.




There was a lagoon, which must have had a hundred full grown carp, presenting problems because the filter sytem installed could not handle their shitting, so it  would clog.The water instead of being clean and transparent was a shitty brown colour.Such a pity, as their were some beautifully coloured fish amongst them, unfortunately you could not see them due to the dark cloudy water. Eventually we had to get rid of the carp. They were sold locally to an aquarium in Rockdale. Mind you the faux rock mountain, which housed the filtration system was a bit "Disney Land".

On the second level was the convention center, function rooms, ballroom and breakout area  In total the center could accommodate 500 people. These facilities became well used by the business fraternity and the ethnic populations in the surrounding areas for weddings.

Another problem area were the car parks which were under the complex, level three car park was never used in the time I was there . It was below the water table of Botany Bay and was underwater the whole time, constantly leaking with water pumps going twenty four hours per day. Many consultants tried to seal the walls from leaks but none succeeded while I was there.There was a South African that specialised in water proofing gold mines in Johannesburg. They injected a hot bituminous solution into the walls, with the catalytic effect that water has with heat - it's drawn to it- the water was supposed to be drawn to the substance which dammed the the water flow. I don't think they were succesful.

Several consultants were retained for advice and opinions during the rectification program. There was on engineering group there for over a year who was retained by PPB that were responsible for the shopping center and office tower and we often crossed paths, as there would be parallel problems and solutions. 

Another consultant,Rogan Moody who was a Forensic Architect  was brought in to assist with combating water penetration.After he had completed his inspection of the property he alerted us to other conditions starting to appear, such as : concrete cancer he said was starting to show in places,paint was already peeling from the exterior,rust was appearing on balcony balustrades,  there were no construction or expansion joints  through the building. Rogan considered it, "the shoddiest of builds he had seen in 25 years of being an architect". In his final analysis which went for seven foolscap pages, he wrote: that he thought they should demolish the building and sue the builders and start again. It was a bit difficult to sue the builders as they were all part of the same group. 

I  tabled his report at the next board  meeting.The Bank and receivers did not take kindly to his advice, as it was not the direction they had in mind, for remedying the problem.

 



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