Student Tower Planned for Historic Brisbane Site


Brisbane’s Lee family is pursuing a 180-unit purpose built student accommodation project in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, switching from its plan to sell the heritage-listed site occupied by the Waltons, Overells and Lincoln Mills buildings.

The family, alongside ASX-listed alternatives fund Millinium, has already lined up Torrens University as the anchor tenant for the project's first stage, which will redevelop the classic red-brick Waltons building at 240 Brunswick Road.

It has now lodged stage two plans, designed by Arkhefield, comprising a 30-storey tower with a 1200sq m co-working hub in the podium, 8000sq m of student accommodation on the lower levels and co-living apartments above.

The 3.5ha L-shaped black, next to Fortitude Valley train station and the McWhirters building, has been owned by the Lee family’s investment company Mount Cathay for almost 40 years.

Family patriarch Chui Fan Lee and his two daughters, Nancy and Joyce Lee, have amassed a portfolio of more than 50 properties in Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba since the mid-1960s.

The dual-stage development, which has an end value of between $180 million and $200 million, will include partial demolition of the Waltons and Braggs buildings, with the building’s facades to be retained, and the refurbishment of the Overells and Lincoln Mills buildings.

▲ The site is a large, landlocked amalgamation of lots and the connection through the site from Valley Metro to McWhirters has long since become derelict.

The development will also include a new public plaza, a link from Brunswick Street to the station and a new retail laneway.

Torrens University will occupy the heritage-listed Overells and Lincoln Mills buildings, both three-storeys, on a 12-year leasing deal. It is expected to accommodate up to 10,000 students upon completion.

The site dates back to the early 1900s when the Walton building was one of a number of grand Victorian buildings that became home to such department stores as Waltons, TC Beirne and McWhirters.

Walton’s bought into Fortitude Valley in the 1950s and then bought out the original drapery business Overells in 1956. Overells Lane runs off Wickham Street down towards the Fortitude Valley train station.

From the 1950s until it closed in 1987 the building was home to the Waltons Department Store.

In 2017 the Lee family listed the site through Knight Frank as a potential “repositioning” opportunity.

Millinium, in mid-2019, is understood to have entered into an “implementation deed in respect of a proposed, conditional and indirect investment of between $25 million and up to $50 million” for a mixed-use redevelopment of the site.

Millinium has since secured acceptable debt finance and received firm interest from equity investors for the first stage of the project.

Plans to develop the Walton’s Building will likely be welcomed by residents as the area around the corner of Wickham and Brunswick streets has fallen into disrepair with many dilapidated and rundown buildings.

The development is also expected to benefit from the ongoing transformation of the Fortitude Valley precinct and the neighbouring $500-million Valley Metro development being undertaken by LaSalle Investment Management.

Across the street, Brisbane developer Cornerstone currently has plans before the Brisbane City council for a 28-storey commercial tower alongside the McWhirters building.

The development is slated for a 1300sq m site between 251 to 253 Wickham Street, together with part of 47 Warner Street, similarly occupied by a derelict and dilapidated building.

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