Built on industrial land consisting of old factories and warehouses, the 50,000-square-metre Melbourne Convention Centre project was a public-private partnership between the Plenary Conventions consortium – comprising Plenary Group, Brookfield Multiplex, and BGIS1 – and the Victorian Government completed in 2009. As the State’s long-term asset management partner, infrastructure specialist Plenary faced a choice whether to passively manage the asset or respond to changes in conference demand and Melbourne’s population growth by adapting the project to ensure it met future demands.
Completed on time and on budget in 2009, the A$1.4 billion Melbourne Convention Centre project, part of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), is recognised as an architectural and commercial success. With a 6-Star Green Star Design rating by the Green Building Council of Australia, it is also one of the greenest convention centres in the world.
Developed to increase Melbourne’s business tourism market, the project facilitated the urban renewal of a former industrial site into an active tourism, mixed-use retail, hotel, residential and food-and- beverage precinct.
The project is a great example of value capture in global PPP infrastructure markets.
While delivering the project for the Victorian Government, public-private partnership (PPP) partner Plenary attracted A$1 billion of complementary commercial development that included a five-star hotel and more than 100,000 square metres of food and beverage, and retail development.
A main feature of the project is its main hall, a flexible space that can be used as a 5500-seat auditorium. The largest operable walls in the southern hemisphere and a unique retractable seating system allow the hall to be divided into three separate theatres, one with capacity for up to 2500 people. The hall is celebrated as a ‘building within a building’, wrapped by more than 16,000 square metres of foyer and event space, and banquet and meeting rooms.
The project has won a host of design and infrastructure awards including the 2010 National Architecture Award, 2010 Victorian Architecture Medal, and 2008 National Infrastructure Award for Government Partnership Excellence. It has also been awarded gold certification by leading tourism certification group EarthCheck and won the 2010 Urban Development Institute of Australia National Environmental Excellence Award, setting the global standard for sustainable convention centre design.
In mid-2016 the Victorian Government, Plenary and other private partners commenced a more than A$350 million expansion of MCEC and the broader South Wharf precinct – one of the first expansions of an operating PPP in Australia.
The project included a 20,000-square-metre expansion of MCEC, a new 347-room, four-star quality Novotel Melbourne South Wharf hotel and a new 1150-space multi-level car park.
Completed in July 2018, the expansion increased MCEC’s total size to more than 70,000 square metres, ensuring it remained the largest business tourism and events destination in Australia.
Up to 1300 people worked on site during construction of the original Melbourne Convention Centre project, and around 700 people were employed during construction of the expansion. More than 2400 new ongoing jobs have since been created by the private sector investment in the mixed-use retail, office, hotel, residential and food and beverage precinct.
Plenary plays a key role in the ongoing asset management of MCEC as special purpose vehicle (SPV) and asset manager. Plenary’s operational model provided ability to innovate through a risk- and-reward sharing mechanism between Plenary and services provider Brookfield GIS. This cost- effective but hands-on approach allows significant savings to be returned to the State while ensuring Plenary is incentivised to maintain the centre to a high standard throughout its life.
Proactive management of the asset identified the opportunity to adapt the asset to new needs, ensuring that a precinct served a wider community. The whole South Wharf precinct demonstrates the success that can be achieved when the public and private sectors work in true partnership to deliver critical pieces of public infrastructure.
Peter King, Chief Executive, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, says “customer experience was front of mind when planning the design – we wanted to ensure our facilities suited the needs of our customers, rather than constraining them to fit within our space. Everything we do at MCEC is based around the fact we are here to connect and inspire. We will fulfil our obligation to connect and with the help of our wonderful new spaces - we will inspire. Our business has benefited from the partnership approach Plenary takes and we look forward to continuing this good work into the future.”