IRIS Capital CEO Sam Arnaout has backed Newcastle council's Stairway to Heaven project, saying his company is "100 per cent committed" to investigating whether it can be incorporated into its East End development.
But the developer, who on Thursday officially opened East End's first stage alongside lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes, has warned the deal must stack up financially in order to progress.
"The stairway project is in its infancy," he said.
"We will look to work very tightly, closely and collaboratively with council to ensure we have exhausted every avenue to see whether the viability council talks about is existing.
"We will leave no stone unturned. We will absolutely investigate all options, but first and foremost the economics of the project must work."
The ambitious project, first envisioned by EJE Architecture's Barney Collins in 2006, would involve the construction of a staircase from Hunter Street to Christ Church Cathedral through Iris' yet-to-be-developed land and the council's soon-to-be-demolished car park.
When the council revived the project late last year, lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes initially suggested Iris could build the staircase in return for the car park land. The 380 public parking spaces would be incorporated into any revised development plans.
The elected council endorsed pursuing detailed talks with Iris last month after a preliminary study found the project would be "feasible" if delivered in conjunction with the development.
Mr Arnaout said his company was still considering the proposal, but recognised the rare opportunity.
We are 100 per cent committed to try and make it work.IRIS Capital CEO Sam Arnaout on the 'Stairway to Heaven'
"Opening up that view corridor to the cathedral, I think it's absolutely upon us to at least try and do everything we can to deliver that to the city," he said. "If we can't get that right now, the future generations won't see that. We need to run it to ground and ensure it's do-able, and if it is we will certainly engage with council and undertake to do it. However, there's a lot of water to go under that bridge before we work out if it's even viable."
Stage one of Iris' East End development has completely transformed the block bordered by Hunter, Perkins, King and Wolfe Streets.
More than 100 residents have moved into the 280 units on site across three towers. Construction of the QT Hotel, which is utilising part of the old David Jones Building, is continuing while multiple ground-floor retail spaces will soon be filled.
"This project is about much more than simply creating residential towers. We could have built that anywhere, but we wanted to create something that had not been seen before in Newcastle," Mr Arnaout said.
"Most developers focus on a top-down approach, with the residential elements being the biggest driver of any site. We took a completely different approach and wanted to bring this to life from the bottom, up.
"Our vision was to firstly create a community meeting place and village that would be the centrepiece of the development. This gave rise to the East End Village, which we believe will in time be the new focus ... of Newcastle's CBD."
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