Busy private developer Mario Salvo has gained control of one of the largest developments approved so far in Melbourne's emerging Fishermans Bend precinct, acquiring a one hectare site for about $40 million.
The Salvo Property Group is buying a Johnson Street site, which has approval for close to 1300 apartments across four towers, from another private player, Bill McNee.
It is a major step for Mr Salvo, who was previously among the first movers into the now densely developed Southbank precinct.
"We're developers and we need to have land," Mr Salvo told The Australian Financial Review. "The land in the inner city, the CBD and even Southbank has clearly become way too expensive."
His move into Fishermans Bend comes at a significant time for the precinct, a 485-hectare urban regeneration zone area more than twice the size of the CBD.
The precinct sits alongside the Yarra River just outside the CBD. There are high hopes its development will absorb a large chunk of Melbourne's expected growth.
But its prospects have become a subject of political controversy after a previous Coalition state government rezoned the area to allow development before planning controls were in place.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne subsequently approved a number of projects, including the huge Johnson Street development two years ago.
In November last year, Mr Wynne tightened his grip on the zone, introducing a number of controls, including mandatory height controls of 40 storeys for developments.
By then the 60-82 Johnson St project designed by Rothe Lowman had approval for two towers of 46 and 43 storeys and two medium-rise towers at 27 and 21 storeys.
"It has an existing permit," Mr Salvo said. "The other permits around it are much lower, so we should have spectacular view into the city, the Yarra and the [bay] foreshore."
He described his group as an "early bird" in the precinct. "You don't look at what is there today. Getting in early, you can buy better."
Mr Salvo expected to tweak the mix of units in the towers to cater for more owner occupiers, making some apartments larger and increasing the proportion of three-bedders.
Colliers International agents Daniel Wolman and Oliver Hay brokered the site, which Mr McNee began looking to sell soon after gaining planning approval two years ago.
"We were managing interest and offers from several Asian developers," Mr Wolman said. "However, the local developers saw the potential in this premium inner-city location immediately."