A PROPERTY once touted as the permanent home of the V8 Supercars race on the Gold Coast is on the way to being transformed into a major industrial precinct that the developers say will inject up to $1 billion into the local economy over the next decade.
The Stephens family today unveiled the 127ha development at Yatala on the site formerly known as Darlington Park International Raceway, building on a legacy left by patriarch Anthony Stephens who died in 2005.
Over the past decade, Stephens' sons Tony and Phil have led the push to transform their father's vision into a major heart-starter for the Gold Coast economy and fill a growing void in the industrial market.
When completed over the next 10 years, Empire Industrial Estate will comprise at least 250 new buildings with 550,000sqm of floor space and create 5000 jobs or almost 12 per cent of the 40,000 new jobs earmarked for the Yatala Enterprise Area in the council's draft city plan.
"I'm hoping it won't take 10 years but, if it does take 10 years, we will pull that dream over the line," Tony Stephens tells Gold Coast Business News. "As the marine hub is to the Gold Coast, this will be the city's new industrial hub."
Today's soil-breaking ceremony comes five years after Stephens, at the age of just 34, had a heart transplant and was told by doctors to consider retiring.
"I wasn't ready to retire I wanted to build this dream," Stephens says.
"I fought my own personal battle to be given the best gift of all. I try to take life day by day, and I'm very happy to be alive and fulfil a passion for life."
Stephens says Empire Industrial Estate is a milestone development for the Gold Coast.
"When it is completed it will be an industrial hub that is the largest in the country," he says.
"The Gold Coast is well recognised and widely known for its tourism infrastructure, beach culture and lifestyle, but our economy is much deeper and more diverse than that. The Empire Industrial Estate is a prime example of that diversification and the enormous potential we have as a city."
Mayor Tom Tate describes the project as a "generational investment" by the Stephens family that will deliver dividends for decades to come through increased investment in the city, including housing construction.
"The industrial estate in this area will be the best in Australia and attract some big names," says Tate.
The first two stages have already been completed, with the third stage set for earthworks in about a month.
One of the Stephens' family's biggest coups was the luring of earthmoving giant Caterpillar away from Ipswich to Yatala, which council says has been a major catalyst for investor interest in the city's industrial sector.
"We've had really good prospective buyers that would like to invest back into the Gold Coast," says Stephens.
"The response we have received from a local and national level has been tremendous. The businesses we will attract to this industrial hub will add significantly to the depth and strength of the Gold Coast economy."
Stephens says today's launch caps off a bitter-sweet ride for the family which has fought hard to hold onto the property during the tough GFC years.
He says the decision in 2005 to cut adrift their father's dream of building on the driver training centre was also difficult at the time.
"When we decided to close the driver training business in 2005 it felt like defeat, it really felt like defeat," says Stephens, who earlier had pushed to make Darlington Park the permanent home of the GC600.
"We've poured a lot of money into this place over the years," he says. "But if you don't back yourself then how can you expect other people to believe in your dream. Every dollar we make goes back into this site. It's a gamble, but we believe the gamble will pay off."
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