Ep 26: How Brisbane's Olympic Games will break with the past
Brisbane 2032 will be one of the most cost-effective games ever by using infrastructure that already exists.
Meet our speakers
Mark is a three-times Olympic medallist, having competed with the Australian swimming team at Los Angeles in 1984. He is also the owner of the Queensland-based property development company Stockwell, and a past president of the Property Council of Australia.
Stephen Conry AM
Stephen Conry AM
Stephen is responsible for the strategic direction and leadership of JLL, Australia’s largest commercial property services firm. He works with an expansive team to deliver ideas and opportunities to real estate owners, developers, occupiers, and governments.
Over the next decade, the Olympic Games are going to be run a lot leaner.
That includes Brisbane, Australia, which is set to be announced this week as the host of the 2032 Games.
Its budget? A modest A$4.5 billion (or $3.4 bn U.S). That’s compared to more recent Games which in some cases have seen budgets blow out to $20 bn U.S.
This is all part of a new approach by Olympic organisers to ensure the legacy of the Games is not financial ruin and unsustainable real estate development for host cities. And it will apply also to the Paris Games in 2024, as well as Los Angeles in 2028.
Ahead of the Brisbane announcement, and the start of the Tokyo Games this week, I invited Mark Stockwell, Australian Olympian, member of multiple Games committees, and property developer, along with Stephen Conry, chief executive of JLL Australia and New Zealand, to discuss the new Games ethos and what’s in store for Brisbane and South East Queensland in 2032.
I’m Rebecca Kent, host of JLL’s Perspectives podcast.
Mark. Brisbane will be the successful bidder for the 2032 Games. These games are going to be different, though. Can you tell us how?
On many levels the Brisbane Games will be different. The what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is looking to do is not have a mega city host the Olympics. And they're looking to make things more sustainable. They want to find reasonably-sized growth regions that need sporting infrastructure, transport infrastructure and accommodation, and South East Queensland (SEQ) is one of those regions. It’s growing anyway.
So by actually putting the Olympics into a growing region and giving the region plenty of time to plan for it, that’s a much more sustainable way to deliver the Games. This is unlike putting the Olympics in world cities like Los Angeles or Paris, where you’ve got to go in and move things around. In some cases these cities are centuries old much harder to deliver the required infrastructure.
The IOC is also getting rid of the very expensive and onerous bidding process. They don't want to have losers. While one city wins, you also get great cities that you've lost maybe for a generation because they've spent a lot of money on the bid process and because they've missed out they're disillusioned with the world, and they don't come back.
The other thing is having a very clear focus on the size of the venues and the IOC making sure that they're more interested in how they're going to be used after the games as opposed to just for the games. For instance, here in SEQ it wouldn't make a lot of sense to go and build a new stadium for 100,000 people given that Brisbane after the games will probably never fill that stadium again. You've got to find teams and uses week in, week out to pay for these venues, and ensure the life of those venues is cross generational.
The IOC will also say to a region that they can go to town on certain venues if the sports they are built for are part of their culture and will used consistently. They’ll be more open to investing in those sorts of things.
So given SEQ has a big growth story, we’re a perfect fit to get the Olympics. Announcing it now gives us 10 years to plan it in a sustainable way. We can use the Olympics not only to promote sport in this country, but across the world. And obviously, Brisbane is a very good, safe, clean and secure city for that to happen. We can get on and deliver what we were going to deliver anyway for our region, but in an Olympic style where we become an Olympic city forever. This will change the destiny of Brisbane. It will become a world-class city.
So, this new criteria aims to ground the Olympics in infrastructure that’s existing or already planned. I also understand that I guess partly as a result of this, games venues will be spread across, South
East Queensland. There’s also scope for temporary, flexible buildings. And it’s possible that athletes will be flying in for their competition and then flying out again once they're done, presumably so there is less money and buildings required to accommodate them.
So it really sounds like a very different kind of Games. As an Olympian yourself, how do you think the athlete experience will be different?
I think it's got to be very athlete focused. And there has still got to be that real Olympic experience. It is still the only event in the world where all countries can come together and compete under a unified set of rules, raise their flag in peace and not worry about the consequences of that. It's a pretty unique event when you think about it.
So, I'd really want Brisbane to stage these games without sacrificing the athlete experience, the true Olympic experience. There’s obviously an aspiration that’s so important for the young, 10, 11 and 12-year-olds and their families not only in this country, but also around the world. So, while the Games must be sustainable and cost-effective, you’ve still got to have a great, world-class event and you’ve got to do it in Queensland style.
A large part of the context around the Olympics’ New Norm, as it’s known, is less tolerance for wastefulness and greater interest in sustainability broadly, across the world, I guess. Given this, how relevant is the Olympics still?
Definitely the world is changing. But the coming together of the world is as important as it was back in 1936 and as important as it was in 1972 and as important as it will be in 2032. An Olympics history spanning thousands of years is pretty special. It's an aspiration for us all.
But I do want to sort of step away from the idea that unless you win a gold medal you're a failure. What it should be about is having a great Olympic experience and being part of a great legacy whether you win a silver medal, or a bronze medal, or whether you make the Olympic finals, or not. Even if you don't make the final at the Olympic trials, the Olympic experience makes its way into families and communities and that's why it resonates with Australia so much. It’s because of our great history across the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games that we're talking about Brisbane 2032. It really does reflect our sporting culture in this country.
Stephen, tell us from your perspective why Brisbane is the right place for the Games.
The timing is perfect for Brisbane to host the Games. We had the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956, in Sydney in 2000, and now it’s Australia’s time again. And Brisbane can host the Games because, as Mark said, the cost of delivering the Games and the cost of the process of getting the Games is far better now.
If you look at the cost of the Games, going back to Rio, London, and Athens in 2004, they all spent over A$15 billion delivering the Games. Brisbane won’t have to do that as we've got so much of the infrastructure already in place. Or to the extent it is needing enhancement, Brisbane can handle that.
Brisbane’s growth projections over the period between now and the Games, and beyond, can really accommodate that infrastructure. Indeed, there'll be a need for it. And there won't be any of this white elephant potential, where It'll never get used again, because the population will match the size of the infrastructure.
For example, even the concept of splitting the residential accommodation, where so you won't have too much in one place. That's a clever move, I think it makes a lot of sense.
And Brisbane, of course, as is Australia, a low-risk choice. It's got a very low crime rate and it is politically stable. These are very important reasons to bid for the Games and to be selected. Brisbane, as a new-world city, and emerging on the world stage as it is, is just the perfect choice.
The cost for the Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics is projected to be A$4.5 billion and cost neutral. Yet it has been found that the average cost blowout for Olympic host cities since 1960 has been nearly triple the official budget.
So, Mark, what’s the likelihood of a similar blowout for Brisbane 2032? How assured can the city be of a truly cost-effective Games?
Well, three things: One is the new rules meaning the specifications for venues has changed. Two, is that the IOC for the first time is actually committing US$2.5 bn towards the cost of the Games. On top of that, you’ve got leadership. What needs to happen is absolute alignment of leadership on the organising committee board, and the ability to be in control of what's happening.
You’ve got to think about it in two elements. One is the cost that goes into running the Games. Two is the infrastructure that South East Queensland needs anyway. So if we build a new road, or a new rail line, the important thing is that you use the Olympics to bring forward the delivery of that infrastructure so we don't squabble over it for 30 years. But certainly, the cost of that long-term infrastructure that gets delivered across South East Queensland should never be at the foot of the Olympics. It must be happening anyway.
So, I think that's really what the IOC is looking for. When a region has got big capital spends and big outflows for infrastructure over the next 12 years anyway, it's very easy to put an Olympics into it.
Stephen, how has Brisbane been preparing for this win, as far as you've seen?
Brisbane, in starting this process six years ago and since has demonstrated the vision and ambition for the global status to be able to pull the Games off.
There's this South East Queensland deal that's been in the works for some time now, and the aim of that is to align all levels of government to better manage growth and development outcomes for the south east corner. The Brisbane Games will really focus on that deal. It will help us create the infrastructure and the redevelopment opportunities that the state needs anyway.
As I said before, Brisbane and Queensland are growing. We won't be creating white elephants. And you've got to remember also that part of our obligation as a host city is to create a legacy plan within 12 months of the announcement. This creates an important roadmap to ensure ongoing benefits for the host city and country. This will be taken very seriously, and it will be a big part of the success of Brisbane.
The Gold Coast, south of Brisbane, hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2018. What learnings can we take from that event into Brisbane 2032?
Of course, Mark Stockwell chaired that bid and was so successful in doing so we were announced as successful host in 2011. The Commonwealth Games, I thought, were very successfully prepared and very successfully executed. It was great for the Gold Coast, for Queensland, and for Australia. And the infrastructure put in place for those Games have been well utilised since, including stadia and the light rail. Part of that infrastructure will be available to use for the Olympic Games, being part of the infrastructure that I said before is already in place.
And what a great promotion the Commonwealth Games was for the Gold Coast, Queensland and Australia. That's what Brisbane has to look forward. Brisbane frankly needs that exposure.
In many parts of the world, the Gold Coast, Queensland, is far better known than Brisbane and that's not good enough. When the Games are on we don't want people just flying into Brisbane and then driving off to the Gold Coast. We want them coming to Brisbane, and Brisbane benefitting from the extraordinary exposure to the four billion people who will be watching the Games, and also watching Brisbane in the lead up.
from my point of view, the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games was technically the best Commonwealth Games that has happened. Though one thing I was a little disappointed about, and something I think we can improve on, is we didn't embrace the community, the families and the businesses as much as we should have. We don't want to scare anyone off the roads. I want everyone who lives in South East Queensland to be opening their homes because there's going to be so much demand for accommodation from families all around the country to come to South East Queensland, to Brisbane, to the Gold Coast, and to the Sunshine Coast, to be part of the celebration as we did in Sydney.
We’re a world-class city and we can have lots of visitors. The Gold Coast can take 40,000 beds per nights just like that. We’re a city that can handle big influxes of people, and that’s all part of the delivery as well.
The other thing that I think will make Brisbane 2032 special – and we didn’t have this in Sydney – is we've actually got a 50/50 commitment from the state and federal governments to underwrite the Games. So I think what you're going to see is a much bigger national injection and focus on the success of it. All sides of government need to be commended for letting that happen.
Mark, what would a solid legacy for Brisbane 2032 look like to you?
I think the legacy starts with sport, and with making sure participation and the pathways to sport in this country are reimagined, improved and built upon. The legacy for me is to make sure we remain a country of participants as opposed to what's happening now, which is we’re becoming a country of sports watchers. It's a very good opportunity to reimagine high performance sport, delivery and pathways across all of the institutes, state academies and universities. That would be a fantastic legacy, a sporting legacy.
The other thing would be sporting venues and facilities done in a way that culturally supports Australia, and particularly South East Queensland. Venues that will be used every night of the week and on the on the weekends.
South East Queensland is currently a population of four million people, and it's going to be eight million before we know it. So how do we use the Olympics to make sure that we keep the lifestyle that we love here in South East Queensland? I actually think that part of the Legacy should also be to make sure we maintain our lifestyle, and that when we put the infrastructure in place, it doesn't wreck the place.
On that point about growth, we are growing and maturing all the time, which makes us an ideal candidate to host the Games, but the success of the Games will also enable further growth.
If you look at foreign investment in Australia into property, it's billions of dollars a year. But Queensland only gets 11 percent of that. Queensland’s population is 20 percent of Australia’s total population and GDP is about 19 percent. Yet foreign investment, if you if you want to make that correlation, is about 11 percent. So, every additional percentage of investment which is bound to come into Australia when Brisbane gets that exposure on the world stage is hundreds of millions of dollars that will come into investment in Queensland.
And when Brisbane gets that exposure, people will think of Australia as being Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, not just Sydney and Melbourne. The spin-off from that will be quite extraordinary. And that’s a great legacy.
People think of Games legacy as being all of the infrastructure the community receives and the great sporting successes that are delivered in the end, plus the high that the city and Australia will be on for the months and years after it. But the legacy of ongoing investment is very significant. And one of the most important reasons for Brisbane to host the Games.
Now, this is a property podcast, and you're both accomplished and successful property people. So I’d like to ask you how property businesses and the industry broadly can and should take advantage of the global spotlight Brisbane will be under.
I genuinely believe that the growth that is coming in the lead up to the Games, and from the Games, is going to be the additional maturity that Brisbane needs from the investment we’ll get and for the property industry to be prepared for the delivery of that investment.
Property is a massive contributor to the Australian GDP. It is already the biggest employer in the country. There will be more contributions to GDP, there will be more employment, and established and emerging businesses in property will be great beneficiaries of it.
Mark, as a property developer, how will you be taking advantage of the limelight?
I think knowing that the market’s growing gives you the confidence to be more excellent in the way you drive and deliver outcomes in the spaces and the places we’re creating, whether they be in retail or in residential.
The Brisbane that Stephen and I grew up in was a big country town and you had to be careful not to over-capitalise. I think you’ve still got to be careful not to. But it's about doing property sensibly and sustainably. I have got some concerns about the supply side of property. At the end of the day, property needs designers, engineers, architects and consultants. You also need people digging holes and supplying steel and concrete. I'm a bit concerned about some of the labour and supply constraints that we're already starting to feel on those fronts here in South East Queensland. So, I think that’s a big piece we need to work with government on and in a way that benefits everyone. You could see a scenario where costs are so high that no-one actually makes any profit. And then we’ll all sit there and go, ‘well, that was a bloody waste of 10 years’. So I think that's something we've got to be careful of.
I also think we’ve got to get the supply of land moving. We don't want to become as expensive as Sydney and all the other world cities. So how do we actually grow in an affordable way? That is very interesting to me. And I think that comes down to establishing where the urban footprint needs to be and what the supply of land is. That will all have a great impact if we don't get it right and then the Olympics will be to blame. So I think the focus on the Games right now provides an opportunity for the Property Council of Australia to say to the government ‘listen, you’ve got to take this seriously. This is where you need to go and this what you need to do’.
On that point, there are areas of investment where I can see it being a golden decade for Brisbane. Values may be up and down in different parts of the world or the country, but the growth that is going to be happening here over the next 11 or 12 years gives me confidence
There are some places that I’ve been interested in investing in particular. But I don’t think it’s necessarily about where you invest because the Games are actually going to have an impact across all of South East Queensland. And because there's going to be growth there, what worries me, Queensland needs to actually get growth and tourism and population growth happening in other parts of the regions.
Although, one of the constraints for that at the moment is that there are many banks who won't lend for retail, commercial, or residential development outside of South East Queensland. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) will have to get on to this or we’re going to have a problem making sure the benefits can flow to Mackay and towns west of Toowoomba, and up the seaboard. So there are some things from a property point of view at a macro level that we need to have a serious and quick conversation about.
We’ve spoken about the need to effectively engage the community to help make the Brisbane Olympics a success. And we’ve spoken about engaging various levels of government through the South East Queensland City Deal. But which organisations specifically have a role in staging a successful Games? Local councils, for example?
Local councils have a very important role. But even more important is a commitment by all three levels of government to collaborate.
You can't build roads to a stadium without the council making it happen. And then let's just take it a bit further. Every time a city builds a road, you're not just employing contractors and all the sub-contractors. You're employing accountants and lawyers and all sorts of professional businesses who advise those bigger groups building roads and stadiums. This is part of the legacy that comes with growth: the employment prospects and the contribution to the economy. The Games is a never-ending opportunity for a host city.
The opportunity to boost the attractiveness of Brisbane in the lead up to the Games and in the Games itself will potentially see a lot more people move to the city, not just from Australia, but from around the world. The idea of this is a vital consideration in the bid to host the Games, the announcement of the successful bid, and then of course in the delivery itself of a successful Games.
Brisbane and South East Queensland can't do this on its own. We've got to bring Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, South Australia, and everyone with us. We've got to engage them because if we allow the boys and girls in Sydney and Melbourne just to sit there and think of this as just Brisbane’s Games, we won't realise the Games’ true value and destiny.
We also need leadership to bring the whole country with us. I think there was a a bit of an opportunity missed at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast because there were some territorial issues between councils and governments, which we must overcome because that will hold us back.
I think the other thing is you get this ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude sometimes. When people say that to me, I think one, that they are not entrepreneurial, and two, they lack imagination.
There is the South East Queensland Council of Mayors and the Regional Queensland Council of mayors representing mayors all over the country that should get together and start to plan how their regions can integrate into the celebrations.
I also think people in Sydney and Melbourne need to consider how they can apply their entrepreneurial skills to be part of the Games. Because that’s when things start happening organically and people start stepping up because they want to. That's when the magic happens.
Thanks, Mark. One last question for you: The Tokyo Games are about to star. In your professional opinion, where are we really going to see Australia perform? The COVID pandemic has really turned that event on its head which is unfortunate, but athletes will persevere, no doubt.
The athletes who will perform well are the ones who won't buy into the fact that there are no spectators in the in the stands, they won't buy into the fact that they've got to wear a face mask, and they won't buy into the fact that they're only there for a few days. I think the real professionals will get in there and focus.
It takes a lot to overcome the adversity needed to be the best that you can be, to make an Olympic team and to get to stand on the dais. I think we’ll see true greatness at the Tokyo Games more than ever before because athletes will be competing under such adversity
I do think it's interesting that of the 34 members of the Australian swimming team, 26 are Queenslanders. And that's before you even count the Campbell sisters who have been training in New South Wales. So I think in swimming we are going to do very well, and there are a few people in the team who will really get us off to a great start. Watch this space.
Exciting stuff. Thank you very much, Mark, for being our guest in this episode of JLL’s Perspectives podcast. And thank you, Stephen. I appreciate both you sharing your thoughts.
If you, listeners, enjoyed this conversation, we’d be delighted if you could write us a review on whichever podcast app you’re listening on.
To see what our guests look like, and to read more about them, pop on over to jll.com.au/perspectives-podcast.
Also, check out JLL’s Trends & Insights section on our website, where you’ll find an article which dives further into the changes imposed by Olympic organisers to make Games events leaner and greener.
I’m Rebecca Kent. Thanks for listening.
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