04 February 2016
by Mercedes Ruehl
Billionaire Jerry Schwarz in Mexican stand-off over abandoned monorail station
Billionaire Jerry Schwartz is caught in the middle of a Kafkaesque stand-off over the monorail station attached to his Rydges World Square hotel in Sydney.
Decommissioned in 2013, there are now five remaining disused and vacant former monorail stations in the CBD. Dr Schwartz wants to incorporate one of the largest, the World Square station shell on Liverpool Street, into his new corporate headquarters.
The vision is for a quirky conference room, potentially using the glass part of the station as a large fishtank like Dr Schwartz has done elsewhere in some of his hotels.
No, said the City of Sydney council. The monorail is the responsibility of the NSW government who should take it down. Wrong, said Transport for NSW. The station is privately owned and the government has no authority in the matter.
The result is an imbroglio that has now dragged on for well over two years.
"It's a stalemate, it just keeps going. It surprises you that in a growing city you have a dead space," Dr Schwartz said.
Plans in motion
Dr Schwartz approached the council when the monorail stopped running in late 2013. He already had plans in motion to build new offices above the old station but wanted to use the shell as a conference room. In return, he would cover all costs and assume responsibility for the station.
"As much as I was opposed to the monorail stopping I thought we could at least take advantage of it and utilise the space. The fishtank, which would be visible from the street, would be part of my meeting room."
Dr Schwartz has now nearly completed his new offices for the Schwartz Family Company out of the part of the station that he owns. There is now a floor of office space above the original monorail station that is already operational. The actual monorail station conversion is still under construction. There he plans a boardroom and a medical tourism clinic.
So far all visits to the council, who owns the footpath below the station, have been unsuccessful. A letter from city planning director Graham Jahn to Dr Schwartz at the time said the physical structure is owned by Transport for NSW.
"Council does not consent to the retention of this structure ... We request that you facilitate the removal of the Liverpool Street Monorail Station structure, and any consequent reinstatement of the facade to the building at that location as soon as possible," the letter said.
A spokesman for the council said the airspace occupied by the station structure, located over the Liverpool Street footpath, was public space owned by the City. It has asked the builder of the stations, Transport for NSW, to remove it.
Transport for NSW has already removed three station at Galeries Victoria, Paddy's Market and Convention Centre. There are five remaining monorail structures - Chinatown, World Square, Darling Park, Harbourside and City Centre on Market Street.
Not ours from Transport NSW
The response from Transport for NSW to the council was that it does not agree it is the owner.
"Dealing with the approved structure ... will be a matter for City of Sydney and the relevant land owners," it said in a letter to the council.
Responding, a Transport for NSW spokesman said it has no authority over the remaining stations as they are privately owned.
It is now nearly 27 months since Dr Schwartz made his initial attempt to take control over the monorail shell. He said unless something changes soon he will make his meeting room smaller and leave the station hanging as it is.
"We will still move in to our new offices, which are almost complete. But we will have to stop short of the old platform. I guess I'll just put glazing over the meeting room. And it will continue to be an eyesore until some concrete falls down and hurts someone."