Property Developer Adrian Fini Reveals how Perth can become a Great City

Adrian Fini is the businessman property developer behind some of Perth's most creative and challenging developments, from Little Creatures to the Como.
Adrian Fini is the businessman property developer behind some of Perth’s most creative and challenging developments, from Little Creatures to the Como.

When Adrian Fini wants to explain just how different the city is today to the Perth he grew up in, he doesn’t reference the homes he’s helped to build or the derelict heritage buildings he’s revived.

He doesn’t cite the burgeoning cultural life he’s supported. Nope, if you really want a measure of how WA has changed, look at the sandwiches.

“When we were children you’d get laughed at if you were having a prosciutto sandwich,” he said. “By the time my kids were at school they could sell it for a fortune.”

He laughs, but he’s only half joking. The 2016 Western Australian of the Year has watched as the culture he was raised in by his immigrant Italian parents went from being something strange and foreign to becoming part of the WA way of life.

And Fini, as perhaps one of the State’s most influential property developers, can claim some credit for being part of the cultural evolution of WA that turned everything from apartment living to al fresco dining, mainstream.

His gong last June came after 40 years at the forefront of some of Perth’s best-known developments.

From multiple apartment buildings and retirement villages to Fremantle’s Little Creatures to Northbridge’s Alex Hotel and the Cathedral Square precinct in the CBD, Fini is behind many of the spaces in which West Australians live, work and play.

Adrian Fini suggested Fremantle Croc Park for Little Creatures, which is now an icon.

 

He has big plans for the future too, with a development at Elizabeth Quay and an ambitious plan to revitalise the east end of Perth.

“He’s a visionary that is thinking about what the future of Western Australia looks like and what the community needs going forward,” said Michael Anghie, chair of Celebrate WA, the organisation that gave Fini his title.

Seven months into his reign as WA’s top citizen he has agreed to chat a little about his home State.

He is notoriously publicity shy, rarely giving media interviews. He even declines to pose for photos in the social pages — despite his status as a board member of the Perth Festival and chair of the Art Gallery of WA Foundation making him a fixture at the city’s top cultural events.

“I haven’t done much,” he said when asked about his impact on WA.

Isn’t that a little, overly modest? “Well, in square metres, there’s lots of space …”

OK, so he hasn’t literally built the entire city — talk about a hard marker.

Como The Treasury, the hotel that Fini Group helped to build from the husk of the heritage-listed Old Treasury Building.

 

Sitting in the well-appointed lounge of Como, The Treasury, the hotel his company helped to build from the husk of the long-neglected heritage-listed Old Treasury Building, as part of a $580 million redevelopment of the Cathedral Square precinct, he is less keen to reflect on what has been achieved in WA as much as talk about what still needs to be done.

“Perth still has a lot of things to do to grow into a great city,” he said. “It needs population, it needs youth, it needs a lot more pride, there are still a lot of social issues in the streets,” he said.

“There is still another 10 or 20 years of very hard work. It has all those elements that make great cities but we don’t have that yet. We’re on a journey towards it, we have part of a plan, we don’t have the full plan.”

Fini grew up in Perth, in St James and later Rossmoyne. Both his parents immigrated from Italy, his father Tony first started his property business in 1956, eight years after immigrating. Tony had a rough start to life in Australia, and has previously said he hated his first 18 months in the country.

“He’s Italian, it’s hard to change that,” Fini said of his father. “I know all the old Italians found it quite a difficult place when they first came. One in a food context and one in a … there were lots of issues in a racial sense, every race that’s come here all had their turn being persecuted at some point in time.”

But he said he personally never felt particularly singled out in a negative way.

“In reality you were the same as the other Italian guy — you were all the same. You felt sorry for the Australian guy because they had to eat polony,” he laughs. “They had to suffer! Oh the food was atrocious, the grey meat.”

He studied commerce at UWA and interior design in London before joining his father and brother Don in the family property development business in the late 1970s.

“I wanted to do different things,” he said.

“I wanted to move into what I call more complicated things. I always said, ‘If it’s more complex then there is less competition and it’s a bit more exciting’. So we got into tourism, inner-city housing projects, social housing, all those sorts of things.”

The company built everything from serviced apartments to retirement villages to hotels and restaurants. In the late 90s Fini was one of the founders of Little Creatures. He came up with the idea to house the brewery in Fremantle’s old crocodile park.

Adrian Fini accepts his West Australian of the Year award.

 

The Fini Group grew and in 2001 merged with east coast developer Mirvac to become Mirvac Fini.

In 2010, Fini left his role at Mirvac (they dropped the Fini in 2006) to focus on his company FJM Property, that spearheaded the State Buildings redevelopment, a project he describes as his: “Most challenging and the most enjoyable”.

“It’s harder to do good things,” Fini said. “If you want to do a really bad block of home units in Tuart Hill it’s no problem getting approval because they know what it looks like, there are a thousands of examples of bad ones, the authorities approve those all the time. Bad is easy and good is hard, which is crazy, but that’s the reality of it.

“If you want a crappy housing project like the one in Dunsborough next door to the one in Dunsborough then no problem — they’ve approved 20 in a row. But when you want to do something that is great it’s actually complicated to get approval from the same Shire.”

He said developing good projects was about long-term thinking.

“I used to always say, ‘You don’t want to do projects that you can’t drive your children past’.”

He does drive his children past his projects — he has five — the youngest just turned 21. Two are architects and one son works full-time at the company. Fini said the next generation would be part of the family business.

“As my wife reminds me it’s actually theirs already, it’s actually hers and theirs, I just work there.”

Fini’s wife, Michela, is Italian, the couple met when she was holidaying in Australia about 30 years ago. The family maintain strong links with their Italian heritage and speak the language at home.

“We’re Italian West Australians in (my family’s) mind and in my mind too,” he said.

Fini says there are a lot of reasons to be proud of being West Australian, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

“We should learn how to be proud of it but also ensure that whatever skills we’ve got we are actually are making it better.”

Awards, such as Western Australian of the Year, which consists of a number of different categories in addition to the overall title, is about striving forward, not looking back, he said.

“That’s why those winners are winners. They are trying to make sure that whatever field they are playing in (it’s improving) and that’s what stimulates hopefully, the youth, the next generation coming through.”

For a developer, there is always more to build.


Article by: Belle Taylor, PerthNow

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