Bridging the gap to Brisbane's future

Bridging the gap to Brisbane's future

I am standing on top of Story Bridge and taking in a spectacular view of the heart and soul of Australia's third biggest city.

Sweeping before me are the symbols of Brisbane's progress from penal settlement nearly 200 years ago to vibrant international metropolis today.

The buildings and edifices stretching along the Brisbane River capture the very essence of our beloved city's identity, spirit and pride.

Towards the city reach of the river is Customs House, with its copper-sheathed dome amid shimmering towers, a handsome Victorian-era reminder of Brisbane's construction boom in the late 1800s.

A little further along the bank is Eagle Street Pier, first built for Expo 88, and now earmarked for the $2.1 billion Waterfront precinct which has just recently been given the tick by the State Government.

Beyond that, are the cranes above the massive Queen's Wharf development which is expected to attract an additional 1.39 million visitors to Brisbane each year when it opens in 2022.

As I take in the view, I flash back to John Douglas Story's vision all those years ago for the Story Bridge, the iconic structure that has graced Brisbane's skyline for eight decades.

With the original Victoria Bridge already across the Brisbane River, Story's grand plan was more than just constructing a link between Fortitude Valley and Kangaroo Point and a way to divert traffic from the growing business district.

It was about creating jobs, it was about belief in the future and it was about boosting the city's confidence during the Great Depression.

Eighty years on those values hold true as we embark upon a $30 billion infrastructure, lifestyle, tourism and entertainment pipeline unrivalled in the city's history.

Imagine Brisbane by 2025. Arriving after a short journey on the rapid-transit Metro to the new Cross River Rail underground interchange station at Roma St, you emerge soaking up Brisbane's amazing sub-tropical climate into the Brisbane Live precinct with its outdoor amphitheatre, 17,000-seat arena, restaurants and bars.

From here it is just a few city blocks, past Australia's first purpose-built W Hotel with top-end restaurants and luxury retail perched above the north bank of the river along George St to Queen's Wharf: the $3.6b integrated resort with magnificent heritage buildings, premier hotels, casino, entertainment and dining set over 26ha and including 12 football fields of free public space.

Upon the Queen's Wharf Sky Deck 100m above William St, you take a selfie against the backdrop of the iconic South Bank Parklands a short walk to West Village with its apartments, retail and lifestyle facilities set around the historic Peters Ice Cream factory and 1ha of publicly accessible open space. This is all linked by tree-lined pedestrian and cycle laneways.

From Cross River Rail's second city underground station in Albert St – the first CBD train station in more than 120 years - you emerge to make your way through a pedestrianised ‘'green corridor'' with parks, trees, chill-out zones and grassy areas linking the southern CBD with the City Botanic Gardens.

Respected international journal Travel+Leisure recently listed Brisbane as 11th among of the 50 best places to travel in 2020 (we were edged out of the top 10 by Boston), spruiking the ‘'air of optimism'' around the River City. It's an air of optimism that is luring tourists in record numbers. Recent data from Tourism and Events Queensland shows that Brisbane welcomed 7.7m domestic overnight visitors for the year ending June 30, pouring $4.9 billion into local coffers.

That included 948,000 tourists from Sydney (up 13.3 per cent) while the number of Melburnians heading north grew 8 per cent to 584,000. Brisbane is growing in popularity among international tourists with a record 1.4m, up 3.4 per cent, driving spending surge of $2.7b.

The Sunshine State capital is also proving a favourite destination for the rest of Queensland with 4.5m intrastate travellers staying for a total of 11.4m nights, while daytrippers were up 17.4 per cent on the previous year.

The visitor wave is spreading well beyond the city to traditional magnets such as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Tropical North Queensland. Tourism minister Kate Jones recently talked about a ‘'golden summer'' after research revealed an extra 400,000 Aussie travellers would holiday in the Sunshine State this summer, tipping an additional $300 million into the tills of tourism operators.

With Brisbane Airport's new $1.3b runway due to open by the middle of 2020 followed by the $160m international cruise ship terminal later in 2020 and the boom in high-end CBD hotels over the past 18 months, we are well placed to exploit this tourism explosion.

These transformational bricks-and-mortar changes can be supported by the ancient wonders of Brisbane and awe-inspiring ways to experience our indigenous heritage such as Riverlife Mirrabooka and Tribal Experiences.

Beneath me alongside the mighty shoulders of the Story Bridge's northern footings, I hear the din of revellers enjoying their frosty Felons beers at our newest icon, Howard Smith Wharves - the historic shipyard-turned craft beer hall, dining destination, luxury hotel and picture-perfect parkland.

It reminds me of how far we've come, how much we have changed and why we live in the best city.

John Sharpe is a Brisbane adventure tourism and events operator