Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Charles Wooley

Welcome to Kohbart …

*Pic: Digital image of Fragrance Group’s proposed hotel at 28-30 Davey St, Hobart.

*Pic: An anonymous architect’s portrayal of the scale of the hotel …

First published June 7

The Fragrance Group’s Mr Koh famously knows a bargain when he sees one and he’s seen a few good deals right here in River City.

Back in 2013 Koh Wee Meng was on holiday in our little town but he couldn’t resist mixing business with pleasure.

As he recently told ‘Forbes Asia’ magazine, “I came across this plot of land while driving along. It was cheap.” It certainly was. Singapore’s reportedly 17th richest man grabbed a piece of our CBD real estate for almost nothing.

In Singapore AUD$5 million might buy a three-bedroom condo or two, but not in the best part of town. But in Hobart he enthused, “For the same money you can own 2000 square meters.”

The billionaire was quick to pounce and Koh’s first hotel, the state’s largest so far, will open shortly with 269 rooms in Macquarie Street.

He has pounced again and again, securing two more sites for those monster towers on Davey and Collins Streets.

And now he has bagged yet another prime property on Harrington Street across the road from St. David’s Park. A nice outlook and from the top floor of whatever mega-structure he creates there, what else might he see and covet?

Welcome to Kohbart.

There has certainly been a good deal of invasive cultural insensitivity in Fragrance’s high-handed high-rise demands.

We woke up one morning to learn about the towers almost as a fait accompli. Indeed it did seem to demonstrate a certain latter-day colonial arrogance.

Although comparing Mr Koh’s planned monstrosities in Hobart with the beautiful low-rise Raffles Hotel the British foisted on Singapore, you might conclude that Singapore got the better deal out of colonialisation.

Reportedly the Koh Towers are still pending a council decision but my source in the HCC doubts council has authority to stop them.

“We don’t have much power here at all. It will ultimately be up to the government and they want cranes on the skyline for the next election. But maybe they have been in power long enough to develop a tin ear.

“They don’t seem to hear the noise of massive public disapproval. My phone never stops ringing and it’s mostly angry,” I was told.

I know a funny story demonstrating how little our government actually knows about Koh Wee Meng, the man with whom they seem so happy to get into bed.

Early on, Mr Koh had the reputation of being a bit of a lad in Singapore property development.

Abandoning a respectable future in his family’s jewellery business for real estate, young Koh colonised the seedy side of Singapore, “because it was cheap.”

He became known as the ‘King of Geylang’, the city’s infamous red light district.

His first hotels had a reputation for being what in Southeast Asia are called ‘love hotels’. It should be understood that these matters do not draw the same approbrium in Asia as here.

So Mr Koh was respectably expanding abroad and was interested in our part of the world when a Tasmanian trade delegation visited Singapore a couple of years back.

A certain high-ranking member of that delegation was advised by his assistants to stay in one of Mr Koh’s many hotels. He was told it would be smart politics and an act of goodwill towards a billionaire investor.

It wasn’t such good advice.

Our most important representative found his room much less splendid than he was accustomed to but it was a short stay so he sucked it up in the greater interests of state economic development.

He needed to get a shirt ironed but after establishing that the hotel had no laundry service he searched his room in vain for an ironing board and an iron.

He called reception only to be told “Oh no, Sir, this hotel does not cater for such requirements. We have no irons or ironing boards.”

“Why is that?” our innocent traveller persisted.

“Well, Sir, our guests do not normally stay long. Usually only one or two hours.”

No suggestion here that Mr Koh is planning any steamy ‘love hotels’ in faraway and chilly Hobart. Sorry, but I think it will be a case of ‘No sex please, we’re Tasmanian’.

It is a pity we have so little detail about what is going to be forced upon us.

My mate Google, who is usually but not always reliable, tells me that Mr. Koh tends to deal down the lower-budget end of the market.

While I think that is not the kind of tourism we really need, I know many Tasmanians will disagree because they think they can afford to stay there.

But like a lot of our visitors who love Tasmania as it is, I think a small room in a big high building where you can’t even open a window is too much like so many of the dreary characterless travel stopovers you endure throughout Asia.

It is boring. Henry Jones, Saffire, Pumphouse, Islington and the soon to be opened Mac 1 plus a myriad good B&Bs prove we can do so much better.

But in the end if we do get stiffed with Mr Koh’s awful buildings, as seems likely, then maybe the ‘love hotel’ isn’t such a bad idea after all.

We would have to hope there was a little love somewhere way up there in those soaring alien towers because I am certain that back down on the cold and shadowed ground there will be nothing but hate.

*Charles Wooley is a legend of Australian journalism, partly through his history with Sixty Minutes. His columns on Tasmanian Times are HERE

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times …

Do we really wish to be known as Phallus City … ?

RICHARD FLANAGAN: ‘They do not allow construction of high rise buildings in their cities’ historic heart …’

Comment 1 …

THE AGE, Saturday June 10 …


Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Robin Charles Halton

    June 11, 2017 at 6:14 am

    Unless Hobart embraces a major road transportation bypass at the back of the city within the next decade then traffic coming from the ever popular destination for lifestyle for living in the region to the south of Hobart then the main arterial route, the daily rat run through the city will continue to cut off opportunities to properly connect the CBD with the waterfront.

    I remain rather surprised that our local and State government representatives and Dept of Roads have never bothered to investigate a link from the Southern Outlet to the south of Tolmans Hill cutting through difficult terrain using a system of tunnels, bridges and open cut across the lower foothills of the mountain behind Knocklofty accessing the more open areas of the Brooker Highway towards the Western suburbs!

    Bring in the world renowned Swiss roading engineers for an appraisal of the route which in part may also provide a scenic road as well as a direct link to the Lyell and Midland Highway and beyond.

    The main objective should be having less traffic passing through the city, not more.

    A price tag for a city bypass would be in the order of $2B over a 5-10 year period of construction, a worthwhile investment for the state that aims to increase its population from 500,000 to 650,000 by 2050 according to the laid back Premier Will Hodgman!

    It seems that Hobart is encouraging just the opposite by pushing for more university developments in the CBD when the Sandy Bay campus expansion in its salubrious setting is being ignored.

    There is lots of bullshit floating about that the increased student population living in the city will be geared more towards planning “highly frequency bus services from the Eastern Shore and the northern suburbs to make public transport a viable option for students and staff.

    One might be shocked to know affluent students today own decent cars and often feel more secure behind the wheel than exposed to riding bicycles and forever waiting for Metro buses that are often filled with persons of limited means who resent the sight of students especially if they are of foreign appearance.

  2. Second Opinion

    June 9, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    Geraldine Doogue on Saturday Extra this morning, (Radio National) discusses the Singaporean effort to green their surrounds. Recreating the local garden of Eden, as a feature of an architectural brief.
    The ersatz Thing!


  3. Robin Charles Halton

    June 9, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Before Hobart allows any more large developments the city needs sort out its increasing traffic problems up and down the daily grind of the Davey St/ Macquarie Sts’ runways.

    With increasing numbers relocating down south of the city as desirable places to live either as retirees or infact regular commuters to work in the city or further north of the Derwent River, the time has come to address the issue of the ‘unnecessary” traffic constantly whizzing through the city that effectively cuts off pedestrian friendly pathways and cycling!

    In recent times the Hobart City Council paid Jans Gehl an international urban planner for big cities the princely sum of $330,000 for an exclusive CDB plan to transform the area into a “dream world” as a pedestrian city, whilst there have been some improvements but they are of a local planning nature with reasonable measures being taken.

    The “dream world” aspect with cycling organisations and pedestrian groups expecting cars to be excluded from many of the cities streets has not occured.

    The relocation of the Metero bus terminal from the Elizabeth St Mall was another of Gehl’s crackpot ideas, where would one move it too, what a joke as it remains within the best location possible!

    The dillish Council at the time under the influence of Green Councillors and a fence sitting Mayor who has now moved onto a higher fence sitting role as an MLC, in my opinion wasted rate payer money on Gehl purely as a CBD exercise avoiding the impending problem of linking the city with the waterfront as well as ignoring the incresing traffic usage from the southern region.

    Hobart Mayor Hickey and the Hodgman government need to get off the tails and start talking about the future of road transport in the Greater Hobart Region.

    A new Bridgewater bridge maybe a great idea for some but it does not address the problem of pushing more traffic into the city focal point where the Brooker Hwy meets the Railway Roundabout and across the Derwent River via the Tasman Bridge!

  4. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    June 7, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    This proposed building is standard fare anywhere else and would look thoroughly at home next to the Melbourne Casino on Southbank. And sure it sticks out like a sore thumb, as the ICI building did in 1958, when there was no other high rise buildings there either.

    The inner city development record since 1958 hasn’t been exactly scintillating, but high rise has been dictated by the economics of land cost.

    Mr Koh got his land dirt cheap and so there is a some wriggle room to get him to produce something a little more imaginative, and dare I say it, iconic, to spruce the skyline of dear little Hobart. He could probably afford to put something up a little more Zaha Hadid, if he tried. And it would really help his creds if the building had a 6 star energy rating.

    But Tasmania cannot afford to just give Mr Koh the heave ho. The city might have an old fashioned charm, but the reasons for that are not good ones. Other than agriculture and hydro-electricity, the place hasn’t got much else economically going for it. Tourism, and Chinese tourism in particular, is a big opportunity, made all the larger by the lack of anything else in prospect.

    Mr Koh’s story is a classic example of how tourism leverages other things, including migration, new skills, new enterprises, infrastructure and new economic-cultural links.

    Behind Koh comes a whole range of possibilities as others of his kind start to invest in Tasmania across a wide spectrum of enterprises and locations.

    And Chinese, on the whole, make very fine and industrious citizens whose increasing presence should be valued and encouraged. And they will set some new standards for productivity and entrepreneurialism in Australia’s island sleepy hollow. Very nice….

    Instead of the thoroughly provincial negativity, how about raising the bar a bit short of a very damaging Singaporean walkaway?

    And how about starting to think about planning for a high rise precinct which has some design and and environmental rules from the beginning, but not making it so hard for developers, they take their money somewhere else.

    Tasmania cannot afford to say no if it wants its children to have some opportunities at home, instead of having to go to the mainland to find them.

  5. Michael Anderson

    June 7, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Looks like, from indications in this article, that you folks may well have a high priced multi-purpose brothel ruling the skyline. This guy must be in Trump’s “family of choice.”

    The hubris of money never ceases to amaze me. It spans all races, creeds, and religions. One knock-on effect I can see right away—a private “security” force, immune from prosecution if they happen to rough up Tassie citizens who get in the way.

    Like Don Corleone said: “Just business, nothing personal.”

  6. Chris

    June 6, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Corruption built large!
    Will it use Ta Ann plywood?
    Or wood chip ceilings ?
    Clear felled tables?
    Abalone licences acquired early by coloured politicians ?
    Infrastructure concessions.
    EPA licences via Government Fish planning?
    Rates remissions?
    457 visa tradesmen with no super paid?
    Cheap Gut Whining Water.
    Sewerage via selfs point at capacity?
    Corruption writ large?

  7. Second Opinion

    June 6, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    A newly extended Hobart Airport will complement and serve the market segment targeted by Fragrance.
    Each Fragrance Hotel will stand as the boundaries of the Fragrance footprint, like goalposts:
    Each building like a cruise-ship; stood on end.
    Permanent sentinels of the invasion.
    A Coup de grâce.
    I thought cargo-cult was a third world thing.
    The real deal will be a captured clientele, with Hobart merely the cuckold.

  8. Mark Temby

    June 6, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    It wasn’t as cheap as the old Collins Street Transport building that sold for $100,000 without tender courtesy of Bacon and Lennon.

  9. john Hayward

    June 6, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Combined with the recent unlocking of Tassie’s forest charms to leering eyes, the installation of Peter Gutwein as madame of Tassie’s cut-rate planning system should prove irresistibly aphrodisiacal to any horny developer with a lump in his back pocket.

    Fast-tracking Mr Koh’s hotels should provide conclusive evidence that our Libs are truly open for business, particularly of the traditional monkey sort.

    John Hayward

  10. George Smiley

    June 6, 2017 at 11:20 am

    The justified contempt of developers/state governments /councils/architects for the ordinary munchkin on the street is best expressed by the ten foot high ‘touchstones’ at the base of the Renzo Piano masterpiece on Macquarie St. in Sydney. Having castrated the odd bullock – take my word for it – they are instantly recognizable though tiny in the scale relative to the tower itself.

Leave a Reply

To Top