In Redevelopment by Clyde Mooney

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Sam Arnaout’s expansive Iris Capital has lodged plans for a massive residential and hospitality development in Kings Cross to replace The Bourbon and Empire Hotels and surrounds.

Around the group’s 2015 purchase of The Bourbon from Chris Cheung, Arnaout orchestrated acquisition of several adjacent lots, ending at Roslyn Street with the purchase of the Empire Hotel.

The five consecutive lots, including two prized hotel licences in a precinct with a freeze on new licences, was destined to become a landmark point in the reshaping of the stricken Kings Cross and Potts Point precinct.

The Bourbon, formerly the Bourbon & Beefsteak, opened in 1967 under American former intelligence specialist Bernie Houghton specifically to service the hordes of American servicemen spending time docked in nearby Woolloomooloo.

The salacious and sometimes sordid history of the venue, which became Sydney’s first 24-7 licensed hotel, formed part of the folklore of both the Bourbon and the Kings Cross strip.

After dreaming of reviving it as a beacon for a reinvented KX, and a top-dollar makeover to broadcast the intentions, the controversial lockout laws that slapped a 1:30 curfew across both the CBD and the famous late-night precinct devastated trade for the all-night party zone, and Cheung reluctantly sold the venue.

Speaking to PubTIC at the time, Arnaout professed “no stone will be left unturned” in the pursuit of a viable solution to the crippled Bourbon.

“The Bourbon is a landmark asset, and legacy hotel for Iris Group.”

More than two years later, Iris’ plans have been revealed via a development application with City of Sydney.

The DA proposes demolition of almost all of the five sites, and construction of a mixed-use development with five to eight-storey structures, holding 83 residential apartments, underground parking, and ground floor commercial uses including retail and reconfigured licensed venues The Bourbon and Empire Hotels.

After spending more than $60 million collecting the sites, the suggested cost of Iris’ development is another $47.5 million.

While arguing against potential heritage concerns at number 20 and 30 Darlinghurst Roads, both far from intact representations of their pre-1900 construction, the proposal cites preserving the 1965 façade of the Empire – the former Les Girls club – due to Sydney City Council’s determination of its purported significance.

The Bourbon, which was hamstrung by over 80 per cent of its floorspace remaining unlicensed as part of the licence freeze, will be reduced in area. Behind and above it will be an evolution of the building’s origins as a private residence, now bringing two studio apartments, 26 one-bed, 45 two-bed, nine three-bed and one four-bedroom residences.

The overall development appears squarely in the direction of the transforming red-light district, now peddling putt-putt over pleasures of the night.

PubTIC was unable to make contact with Arnaout prior to publication.

North-east view, with preserved Empire facade