The murky and meandering backbone of Brisbane affectionately known as “the brown snake” is the focus of a proposed $20-million floating tourism hub at the historic Howard Smith Wharves.
Abandoned for decades before being resurrected in 2018 as a dining and entertainment precinct, the heritage-listed wharves’ original purpose will be restored under the plans.
The over-water expansion will enable boats to once again berth at the Brisbane River landmark below the Story Bridge.
Two 157m-long pontoons—either side of the existing Mr Percival’s bar—will be constructed to establish a “river tourism gateway” accessed via five gangways and an elevator.
As well as providing boat-berthing facilities and river connections to key tourism locations in the city and Moreton Bay, the plans also involve the creation of unique floating food and beverage venues—including aboard a permanently moored trawler and barge.
According to the planning documents filed with the Brisbane City Council, the proposed expansion earmarked for the western end of Howard Smith Wharves is part of a long-term strategy that also includes future development of the eastern parts of the precinct.
“Howard Smith Wharves is a landmark Brisbane precinct and the ongoing development of this site will ensure that it maintains this status and continues to contribute significantly to tourism for this region going forward to [the Brisbane Olympics in] 2032 and beyond,” a planning report said.
“The proposal comprises pontoons, a trawler and floating walkway on the area of Brisbane River adjoining Howard Smith Wharves, specifically the area of the site in front of the existing Felons Brewing Co shed and the existing Howard’s Hall.”
The expansion has been designed by Little Boat Projects “to complement the heritage values of the precinct”, which was established in the 1930s and is the oldest surviving wharf facility in the central city.
The report also noted the proposed development was “consistent with council’s River’s Edge Strategy to promote activation and connection with the Brisbane River”.
“The proposal will complement and reinforce Howard Smith Wharves as a premier destination for locals and tourists, providing landings and a new way to access the site by private vessel,” it said.
“The two pontoons providing the landing are augmented with dining facilities. Together with the Felons Barrel Hall pontoon and trawler these provide a unique floating food and beverage offering to visitors.”
The expansion was initially flagged in 2020 when the Queensland government committed $5.5 million to build three new pontoons through its Attracting Tourism Fund.
The first of the three floating concrete platforms was completed in early 2021, linking the Howard Smith Wharves with direct access to the Brisbane River for commercial and private vessels for the first time since the 1960s.
Construction of the additional pontoons is expected to begin next year and the project completed by summer 2024.
Howard Smith Wharves chief executive Luke Fraser said he envisaged the precinct would provide a connection to not only the river but to the Moreton Bay, Tangalooma and island region.
“Imagine starting your tour with a premier food and drink experience before jumping on a water taxi, tour boat or luxury yacht to explore the Brisbane River or take a day trip out to Moreton Bay,” he said.
Expert marina builders and engineers had been brought in to ensure the pontoons are designed and engineered to be flood resistant.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the project would be “a significant addition the city’s tourism offering as we gear up to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2032”.
He said it would generate 50 new jobs during construction and support hundreds of new long-term tourism industry jobs.
Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said the infrastructure would inject more than $60 million a year into the local economy by 2032.
“The Brisbane River is at the heart of our city,” he said. “We have been working closely with Howard Smith Wharves to ensure this new gateway will maximise the long-term benefits for our city.
“This gateway will create a new river connection between Howard Smith Wharves and key tourism locations in the Brisbane CBD such as Queens Wharf and out to our beautiful Moreton Bay islands.”