Back to the future – the man shaping The Mill

Posted: 5am 17 Aug 2020

Nigel Chamier is no stranger to challenges in fact he thrives on them - and as Chair of the first MILLovate Board of Governors faces one of the biggest in the Moreton Bay Region.

His small, but experienced team has to “create jobs, create investment and build on the success” of the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) site in Petrie.

MILLovate is a long-term project (20 years, Nigel says) but with no room for error. The site is unique, the opportunity rare and the economic stakes sky high.

Current expectations are The Mill development area will create more than 6000 jobs and an economic benefit to our region of $950 million.

Both huge projections before a team led by a local man who bought his first house, with his late wife, in Kallangur for just $12,250.

“If I am given a challenge I rise to it,” says Nigel, 69, “I think it (MILLovate) needs to be done properly. The worst thing you could do is rush in with spec buildings.

“The natural attributes of the site are such that there is a wonderful opportunity to get it right, because you don’t really get a second chance.

“Hypothetically, if Google wanted a big campus here, we could certainly accommodate it.”

Strong local links

Nigel knows this fast-growing area well. After living in Kallangur, the family then moved to Bray Park where his children went to school. His parents lived at Morayfield and his mother is now in Murrumba Downs.

He had friends and neighbours who worked at the old paper mill, on the site of the new USC university, and learned to water ski on the North Pine River close by.

Nigel is happy to be called a local and says “the fact my mother is 97 shows the quality of the air in the Moreton Bay region must be something special!”

“I would take my children and grandchildren to the houses where their parents were raised, because I think it is important for them to understand their background and family,” he says.

“So, when I was asked to take on this role, it was too wonderful an opportunity to turn down.”

Exciting opportunity

But with those close connections comes responsibility as the head of MILLovate, a company owned by Moreton Bay Regional Council, with six directors, a CEO to start next month and around six additional staff.

“It is a very responsible position,” Nigel says, “but I have done similar things before on various scales, so I am really excited by it. I think it is unique.”

Nigel’s career includes 20 years with a major international real estate agency (JLL), where he was “a partner very early in life”. In 1994 received a Medal of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1994 for services to the property industry.

For 11 years, he was Chairman of the Office of Economic Development for the City of Brisbane. He’s also been director of Queensland Airports, director of Griffith University and was chair of the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast.

A legacy of the Games is a knowledge precinct, opposite Griffith University, at Southport. Moreton Bay Regional Council also wants a knowledge and innovation centre at Petrie, which is well placed to adapt in our changing world.

Challenging time

“One of the most important things is COVID,” says Nigel, “our cities are changing globally. The demand for office space is going to be less in the central business districts (CBDs).

“I think there is going to be a significant push toward decentralisation. This is happening quickly, exacerbated by COVID. I see quite a revolution taking place.

“I take my hat off to the mayor and councillors - and the former mayor and councillors - for their foresight in acquiring this land to create this opportunity.”

Nigel will now draw on experience, such as being involved with the development of Brisbane’s South Bank Corporation since before the World Expo in 1988.

“You have to get the infrastructure right,” says Nigel, “you’ve got to get the road pattern right and you have got to get the mix right.

“In that case (South Bank) a combination of the cinema, the residents, the office buildings, the retail, the park, the people, all those make a place.

“That is exactly what we have got here. It’s a size and quality to attract capital from all over the world. If you think of South Bank as a model, that has attracted a German pension fund which has bought a major building there.

“I would like to think we will have an architectural design panel so we can ensure the quality of what gets built here (MILLovate site) will be world class. There are a lot of parallels and I think some of those principles could be applied here It is wonderful to have the USC as a linchpin and the catalyst to make things happen.”

Diving in with both feet

Nigel’s “very keen” to encourage sport and fitness and as chair of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, vowed to try every sport. So, at the age of 61 he ran his first half marathon and did a triathlon.

“I don’t run anymore, but certainly walk every day,” he says, opening an app on his mobile phone showing that on the morning of this interview, before 11am, he had walked 10,322 steps and covered 7.6km.

Environmental, preservation and heritage projects are also close to his heart. Nigel chaired the $215 million restoration of Brisbane City Hall, which was closed for three years.

“I’m thrilled at the way that has turned out,” he says, “yes, I do like preserving things, building things and finding that relationship between what humans want and nature wants. I love this. I have been very blessed.”

Nigel describes his approach to huge tasks as “very inclusive and very out there”.

As chair of the Oxley Creek Transformation, a $100 million project covering 20kms from Tennyson to Larapinta, board meetings were held on site, respecting and learning about the indigenous culture of that area with Oxley Creek being part of a route used to walk from Brisbane River to the Scenic Rim.

“I don’t believe you need to be sitting in a boardroom,” says Nigel, “my view is we should always be out in the field talking to the occupiers and residents and getting a feel for it.

“I don’t think you are ever too old to start learning.”

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