The facade of another beloved landmark Sydney building is about to be subject to scrutiny but on this occasion it's arguably for a rather more noble purpose than a multi-million dollar horse race.
Far East, the Asia-based international property developer and owners of the building that is home to a major five-star hotel, will embark on a process early in the new year to clean and repair the sprawling sandstone exterior of the city's historic GPO, built in 1874 and located at 1 Martin Place.
The restoration of the prestigious building will coincide with the re-branding of the hotel inside the GPO from Westin Sydney to the Fullerton Hotel Sydney, named after Far East's Singapore establishments, the Fullerton Bay Hotel and Fullerton Hotel.
It's effectively a tale of two British colonial-era GPOs. Far East is experienced in operating hotels in landmark buildings, with its main Fullerton Hotel Singapore located inside the city-state's former GPO, which opened in 1928.
The Fullerton Hotel Sydney will be the group's first overseas property and represents another phase in Sydney's hotel boom, the biggest since the Olympics in 2000.
The peak industry body, Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA), has forecast that 11,000 rooms will be added to the Sydney hotel market, largely as a result of the surge in international visitors to the city, Australia's traditional tourism gateway.
Sydney Airport recently reported that international arrivals grew 5.2 per cent tin the six months to June 30 this year. It represents a 3.3 per cent rise in passenger movements to 21.6 million.
"Sydney is undergoing the most fundamental change to its accommodation sector since the arrival of international hotels in the 1970s," said Carol Giuseppi, chief executive of TAA.
"Already we have seen international groups like Hilton bring their cutting-edge Curio brand to Sydney, while Marriott has introduced the Autograph Selection, and Accor their boutique MGallery by Sofitel collection."
The controversial $150 million sale last year by Australia Post of the Sydney GPO to the billionaire owners of the Far East group raised concerns about the building's heritage status and future internal configuration and function.
Mr Cavaliere Giovanni, general manager of the Fullerton Hotel Singapore, said the cleaning of the Sydney GPO facade would be undertaken as part of his company's role as "dedicated custodians" of the building.
"[It will be] part of our commitment to the community" with the cleaning project designed to restore "the beauty of the facade". It will be carried out according to NSW Heritage Management Plan and safety regulations.
Mr Giovanni, who will oversee the transition of the hotel from the Westin to the Fullerton, said the Fullerton Hotel Sydney and the Fullerton Hotel Singapore share a similar rich history as former GPOs.
The Fullerton Singapore is classed as a national monument, as is the iconic Raffles, a designation in Singapore which is the equivalent of a National Heritage listing in Australia.
Far East has not disclosed its plans for the interior of the Sydney GPO but the building's lower level restaurant and cafe area is likely to undergo a major upgrade, along with the building's retail amenities.
Guided heritage tours of the building, free to hotel guests and similar to those conducted at the Fullerton Singapore, are also likely to be introduced at the Fullerton Hotel Sydney.
Although the name change of the hotel from Westin Sydney, part of the giant Marriott International group that has managed the hotel for two decades, to the Fullerton Hotel will not occur until next year, a website for the Fullerton Hotel Sydney has gone live today.
The operation of the existing hotel, mainly focused in a multi-storey tower at the rear of the GPO, will not be affected by the remediation work on the heritage building's facade.
Anthony Dennis is the Traveller editor.
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