Gabba Central is the place that Mick built.
Well to be more accurate, this is the place that Mick Sharp and the Gabba Central body corporate rebuilt with the help of strata managers SSKB.
The story of Gabba Central in Brisbane’s inner city suburb of Woolloongabba is one of drama and heartbreak but also one with a happy ending that provides lessons for everyone who has bought into a strata community.
Mick’s personal story is no less remarkable. The former navy man and his wife decided to sell up in the suburbs to buy into the newly opened development when Parkinson’s Disease meant Mick could no longer drive and needed services nearby.
“This place was perfect for me,” says Mick. “I could go downstairs and I had a chemist right there and my doctors too, there are cafes and Coles as well. I had everything I needed while my wife was at work.”
Not one to sit about in retirement, Mick attended Gabba Central’s first AGM with the idea of becoming a committee member. By end of the night, he was chairman.
“To this day I don’t know how that happened,” he says with a laugh.
The role of body corporate chairman is demanding enough without the added burden of managing a serious health condition and the subsequent drama that followed.
In 2010, the four tower (with four separate Bodies Corporate) mixed-use development, located across the road from the iconic Gabba Cricket Grounds, was lauded as part of the new urban renewal focus for the old suburb.
Shortly after completion, the developer went bankrupt.
Almost immediately, residents discovered that sub-contractors were not the only ones who had been short-changed.
Right from the beginning there were problems with the building itself. A structural engineers report was commissioned and the owners discovered $4.5 million worth of remedial work was needed.
“The developer had taken shortcuts everywhere to the point where there were serious problems,” says Mick. “And with the building being so new, there was not enough money in the sinking fund to begin to pay for the repairs.”
Many units in the four towers had windows that leaked or were installed incorrectly – even the render on the towers façade had been installed incorrectly
“We didn’t know what to do next.
“Emotions ran high”
“The developer had gone bankrupt. The BSA (Building Services Authority, now the Queensland Building and Construction Commission) insurance only covered buildings up to three storeys high.”
Working alongside the committee during this trying time was strata manager Kim Fenton, general manager of SSKB’s Brisbane office.
“Kim was absolutely amazing,” says Mick. “She helped us negotiate a strata improvement loan through the Macquarie Bank and did everything to make sure that we operated within the body corporate legislation, so we were compliant at all times.”
Emotions ran high when owners learned the news and only the steady hand of the committee held everything together, says Kim.
“The calibre of committee members at Gabba Central is exceptional, we have a senior member of the Crown Prosecution Service, a structural engineer and, of course, Mick who had clarity of vision and were able to communicate that to the lot owners,” she says.
“They were able to explain that yes, they could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and wasting many years pursuing the developers in litigation and potentially end up with nothing, or they could roll up their sleeves and get the repairs done.
“Part of my role was to provide support to the body corporate committee and in some respects take the heat from irate owners upset about the size of the levies and who didn’t understand what was going on.”
The decision to take a strata improvement loan of that size was not one taken lightly – $4.5 million was the largest strata improvement loan ever approved by the Macquarie Bank. Their maximum lending limit is $2.5 million and unlike other loans, a strata improvement has a repayment term of five years.
Gabba Central was a development with exceptional circumstances.
To service the loan, the body corporate voted to increase levies that would be over and above the normal body corporate levy that pays for day-to-day administration and puts money aside in a sinking or maintenance fund to pay for future repairs and maintenance.
“It was not an easy time,” says Mick with typical understatement. “Every time there was a bit of rain, my wife and I would get phone calls in the middle of the night from residents whose units were leaking.”
Then something remarkable happened.
“It’s all about communication”
“The elevated levies were enough to pay the remedial works contractor progress payments every month for repairs complete on the buildings. We didn’t need to draw down on the loan, but I kept that bit of news to myself,” he says with a merry twinkle in his eyes.
“A few months ago, we had our AGM and it was a pleasure to tell the owners that there would be no need to continue with the increased levies – and no need to pay back any loan, because we had not drawn down on it.”
In effect, the body corporate levies at Gabba Central went down.
“We now had money in the bank to pay to heat the indoor swimming pool and ensure all of the units were compliant for Foxtel – these were things the developer should have done, but didn’t, but they had been less of a priority than making sure the building was sound,” says Mick.
Speaking of which, Mick himself is sleeping more soundly these days – and so too is his wife who is very proud of what her husband has achieved.
“None of the units leak now,” he says. “The storms we’ve had over the past few weeks have been a good test.”
The Gabba Central story underscores the importance effective communication between the committee and all of the owners as well as the committee and the strata manager .
“I can’t say it enough, it’s all about communication,” says Mick. “As a committee, we had to keep the owners informed at all times.
“It would have been easy just to do a patch-up job and ignore the worst of the problems. It was our job to make sure that all the owners knew the seriousness of the situation and understood the action we were going to take to fix it.”
An experienced strata manager was vital to bring this story to its happy ending.
“Gabba Central has been one of the most challenging developments in my years of being a body corporate manager – the structural issues were complex as was the building itself,” says Kim. “There are four towers with multiple lot owners and a volumetric lot with retail tenancies on the ground floor.
“That’s a lot of stakeholders who need to be informed and invested in the decision making process.
“SSKB and the committee were the only constants through the whole process. Gabba Central had several building managers during that time and without everyone working together, this property would have had serious on-going problems.
“There were no hidden agendas, all of us worked hard towards a common goal and that meant we could have frank discussions and present options to the lot owners.”
Today everything is looking rosy at Gabba Central, and good news too on the health front for Mick, so there are additional celebrations with good friends who happen to be his neighbours.
“Despite the ups and downs I don’t regret the move to Gabba Central,” he says. “We’ve made so many great friends here. It’s such a great community.”