by Jeni Bone
A vision first held by 80s tycoon, Christopher Skase more than two decades ago is finally being realised thanks to a cohesive partnership between an environmentalist, an architect and an award winning developer.
Port of Airlie will put the region on the map as a destination in its own right, not just a set off point to the Reef and Whitsundays.
Meridien has begun its world class $500 million Port of Airlie project with massive civil works alone costing more than $80 million.
Meridien Managing Director, Russell McCart says although the project was just an idea for so long, it is a project of state significance and has taken years of hard work to get to a starting point.
'I doubt any major development has ever come through such scrutiny,' he said. 'Port of Airlie has passed two dozen approval processes in all three tiers of government and has the overwhelming support of the Airlie Beach community. None of that was easy, it all had to be earned.
'The community had to have the confidence that what we were proposing was right for the area and that it would be done the right way.'
Meridien came forth with its concept in response to the State Government’s search for solutions for the Airlie Beach area.
When it called for expressions of interest, Meridien came up with a design that included 141 luxury resort hotel suites, 4000m² of retail space, a world-class marina with 240 marina berths and 365 residential and tourist apartments.
'Although Port of Airlie is about one eight of the size of the monster proposed in the 80s, it’s the biggest project North Queensland has seen for a long time and made possible through our partnership with Architect Gary Hunt and Australia’s top environmentalist Dr Hugh Lavery,' said McCart.
Port of Airlie is the first, and one of the largest tourism developments in Queensland to be approved under Australia’s Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) 1999.
Meridien corporate advisor, Dr Lavery, who was recently honoured as the inaugural winner of the Certified Environmental Practitioner of the Year (CEnvP) for Australia and New Zealand, says the project will set a new benchmark for the way in which tourism developments are undertaken throughout Australia.
'What is being done here by Meridien is best practice, not just by Australian standards, but also by international standards,' said Dr Lavery.
With environmental issues supervised by Dr Lavery, Meridien began the search for the right architect.
'We wanted someone who shared our vision of how Port of Airlie should look and feel. I found Gary Hunt in Port Douglas and saw his work and immediately there was a meeting of minds on the design,' McCart said.
Port of Airlie embraces true colonial North Queensland architecture with only necessary changes made along the way to satisfy modern building codes.
Port of Airlie, artist's impression.
Consensus is that the development will change the function and character of Airlie Beach, from being a stopping off point for The Whitsundays to making it a fascinating destination in its own right.
'I have personally spent a lot of time in The Whitsundays,' said McCart. 'I’ve sailed all around the world and nothing compares.
'It’s heartening to see Australians value what they have here in their own backyard. Airlie Beach has always been the gateway to the Whitsundays but Port of Airlie will make it a destination.'
So important an asset are The Whitsundays, Meridien took special measures in ensuring construction did not impact the pristine environment.
'We’ve spent $10 million dollars on a bund and sheet pile wall that completely surrounds the civil works which ensures the construction works are completely contained,' said McCart.
'That’s an example of the extraordinary lengths we’ve gone to.'
Meridien is invested in this community for the long-term and we will continue to have input into Port of Airlie by retaining management rights of the precinct long after the construction is finished.
The resort will be a key element in the new development.
'This will ensure the original vision and goals we set will be maintained.'
More at www.portofairlie.com.au