For FEC executive director Winnie Chiu, the Melbourne CBD’s western edge – the domain of students, cheap eateries and offices and the occasional strip club – is set to follow the upwards path of urban regeneration projects such as Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs in London Docklands, now the head office location to banks including HSBC.
She points to the footfall created by the apartments FEC has developed – 2200 units in the Upper West Side development on the other side of Lonsdale Street and 2800 in the four towers of West Side Place – as well as infrastructure such as Southern Cross railway station across the road and the adjacent Marvel Stadium, as evidence the precinct will improve.
“In the beginning of the whole Canary Wharf journey, it was also students,” Ms Chiu told The Australian Financial Review.
“At the end of the day property is chicken and egg. If you don’t get in earlier you will not have the anchor – I mean by then it will be much more expensive.”
Alongside 257 rooms and suites, many with spectacular views over the city, Melbourne’s Ritz-Carlton hotel will offer guests a heated infinity pool, spa, upmarket restaurant and intimate library bar.
Guests and visitors will access the Ritz-Carlton sky lobby on level 80 via high-speed lifts that take just 25 seconds to reach the top. A second set of lifts will take them down to their rooms.
A night’s stay in a hotel room will start from over $600, rising to many thousands for a luxury suite.
Just above ground level, a large conferencing and events centre, including one of the city’s biggest ballrooms is already generating business.
“The ballroom will be a licence to print money,” Mr Hunt predicted. “We see it as a massive demand driver. The jet engine behind the glider. It will induce bookings for weddings, parties, social events and commerce events,”
Alongside head of development Richard Crawford, Mr Hunt has overseen Marriott’s roll-out of luxury hotels across the region including Melbourne’s first Le Meridien Hotel which opened last week, a W Melbourne in 2021 and the Ritz-Carlton Perth, which opened at the Elizabeth Quay waterfront in 2019.
The Ritz-Carlton takes Marriott to 43 hotels in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, and gives it an 11th hotel in Melbourne. In October, the long-awaited 585-room W Sydney will open as part of the eye-catching Ribbon development at Darling Harbour.
Originally due to open in 2019, the luxury hotel’s completion was hampered by the pandemic and the collapse of construction firm Pro-build last year.
It’s opening this week, accompanied by a lavish party, comes as Marriott enjoys the domestic tourism-led rebound that has lifted financial performance across its portfolio above pre-pandemic numbers.
Melbourne is also the epicentre of a wave of hotel development – particularly at the higher end – that is increasing the competition for guests.
Figures from consultancy STR shows the city’s supply of luxury and upper upscale hotel rooms jumped 24 per cent over the 12 months to January, while it rose 5 per cent in the upscale and upper midscale category and fell 6 per cent in the midscale-economy range.
“Melbourne’s operating performance continues to improve although occupancy growth will be weighed down by the increase in supply,” STR regional director Matthew Burke said.
“Currently occupancy [over the 12 months to February] is 13 per cent behind the comparable 2019 12-month period.”
Veteran hotel manager Anthony Page, who has operated luxury hotels for Marriott around the world including the Ritz-Carlton in Bangalore, will take charge of the Ritz-Carlton Melbourne.
Mr Page said the Ritz-Carlton Melbourne was part of the evolution of the brand globally from “iconic luxury to something more modern and local”.
“The hotel will create its own demand,” he said.