A mastermind behind Southbank

A mastermind behind Southbank

By Sean Car

One of the three founders of prominent local development group Central Equity, chairman Eddie Kutner, this month sat down with Southbank Local News to provide an insight into his shared vision for Southbank.

It’s pretty much impossible to go anywhere in Southbank without encountering one of Central Equity’s developments. From Southbank Village to the river and back, many Southbankers call one of its developments home.

Along with co-founders Dennis Wilson and John Bourke, Eddie has been delivering residential apartment projects in Melbourne for more than 30 years – a time well before the city’s love affair with high-rise started.

While they originally began their foray into property development in Carlton in the 1980s, Eddie said the prospect of being at the forefront of Southbank’s transformation had been enticing to the company from the outset.

“Southbank was less than a blank canvas,” he said. “While its industrial past represented significant challenges to creating a new mixed-use precinct, its location by the river and the CBD made it the ideal location.”

“Dennis, John and I already knew that Melbourne was an amazingly liveable city but I think we each saw Southbank’s potential in helping shape it into the world’s most liveable city during a time when few others could.”

The vision to rezone the south bank of the Yarra River was largely that of former Victorian planning minister Evan Walker, who served under John Cain’s Labor government in the 1980s. The footbridge between Southgate and Flinders Street Station, is named in his honour and marks his legacy.

While this period marked the start of a drastic shift in Melbourne’s view of the river precinct, Eddie said it wasn’t until the election of the Kennett government in 1992 that development started accelerating in Southbank more broadly.

The transformation of the former Exxon Mobil building from office tower to apartment complex at 28 Southgate Ave marked the completion of Central Equity’s first Southbank project in 1995.

Since then it has delivered a whopping 28 residential projects in Southbank. Its latest project, Southbank Central at the corner of City Rd and Balston St, recently won the Housing Industry Association (HIA) Victorian Apartment Complex 2018 Award and marked its 80th project in Melbourne.

Having had the foresight to enter the Southbank market before land values skyrocketed in the area, Central Equity has been able to develop more residential properties than any other developer in Southbank.

From 100 residents to more than 20,000 today, he said Southbank had come a long way during his time.

“The Federal Government’s National Housing Strategy in the early 90s set out some ambitious targets to address population growth and changing demographics in Melbourne. We recognised these opportunities early on in Southbank,” he said.

“I can still remember standing on the old Commonwealth Clothing Factory site on Miles St in the early 90s with Dennis and John and saying to them we had to buy this, but of course people would say you’re crazy there’s nothing there!”

“In the early days, one of the things we did to cater for the first residents was to set up the first two convenience stores despite the fact we had no experience in this area. In the absence of any services, it was enough to get things moving.”

It’s that “holistic approach” to real estate that has seen the company continue to deliver projects and record strong financial results during what has been a challenging few years for the property market in Melbourne.

While changes to stamp duty, new rules surrounding foreign investment and the introduction of planning scheme amendment C270 has seen the market slow in recent years, Central Equity has taken a different approach to managing risk.

By providing a “one-stop shop” of real estate services through its wholly-owned Melbourne Inner City Management (MICM) business, Eddie said the company was able to manage all of its projects more effectively.

“The property market is a risky business,” he said. “From buying off the plan and the three or four years between moving in, a lot can change in one’s life so we’re able to assist our clients through that period by managing our own real estate and mitigating a lot of the risk.”

Having arrived in Australia with his parents in the 1950s from post-war Germany, Eddie’s success story as a migrant is something to celebrate.

A successful career as a chartered accountant would pave the way for his transition into co-founding what is now one of Australia’s largest private companies.

His success has also laid a strong foundation for him to give back to the city he loves. With a life-long passion for art and science, Eddie founded not-for-profit organisation Wonderment Walk five years ago.

The initiative, which aims to create accessible open-air galleries of sculptures and installations that combine science, mathematics and art, has already seen projects commissioned throughout Melbourne.

Its next project, Waterlines by artist Ian Strange, has been donated to the City of Port Phillip. It will be placed at the forecourt of the new South Melbourne Primary School in Southbank and represents the area’s association with water and flooding.

As reported in the October edition of Southbank Local News, Eddie also played a key role in helping keep the popular Shearwater sculpture at Riverside Quay in Southbank.

Central Equity has also provided free space to popular local initiative One Roof, which has become Australia’s leading co-working space dedicated to women-led businesses since moving to City Rd, Southbank in 2016.

While his roots may stem from overseas it’s fair to say he has well and truly found his home in Australia. With four “kangaroo children” and nine grandchildren of his own, he said Melbourne had been very good to himself and his family.

Moreover, he remains a staunch advocate of Southbank and said that, with the likes of Southbank Boulevard and Boyd Park soon coming on the grid, the suburb was only going to get better.

“I don’t know another area in the world that has the likes of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Recital Centre, Royal Botanic Gardens, the city and the Sports Precinct within walking distance,” he said.

“We’re now seeing more and more services such as medical centres and supermarkets come into the area and that will continue as the suburb grows and I believe we’ve provided a good foundation for that growth.”

“We don’t really sit back and dwell our contribution to Southbank. We’re always focused on getting on with the job but I suppose there is a sense of satisfaction in what we’ve been able to achieve.”

More information: centralequity.com.au and wondermentwalk.org.au

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