Development Victoria

On the frontline of development in Docklands

11 Jun 2018

Watching the transformation of Docklands over the past eight years has instilled a sense of pride in Development Victoria’s Karen Cowden, who is on the frontline of delivering one of Melbourne’s fastest growing precincts.

Karen, who has worked her way through the business to become a Development Director on Docklands, has seen immense change in Docklands from when she commenced working on the project in 2010. 

“When I started working on Docklands, my first projects were Waterfront City and NewQuay.

“In the past four years, with the commitment by developers such as Ashe Morgan, MAB Corporation and Capital Alliance, there has been enormous revitalisation of this area.  This effort has attracted hoteliers such as Sheraton Four Points, Marriott, Sebel and Quest and within The District Docklands, there is a new cinema complex and fresh food precinct under construction which will change the face of the area.”

Karen is also proud of what Development Victoria has achieved over the past 20 years in Docklands, working in conjunction with the private sector.

“Docklands has contributed significant benefits to the State, largely from the number of jobs generated from construction but also with the jobs that have been retained in Melbourne.  You just have to look at the big corporates like ANZ, NAB and KPMG who have committed to the area and made it their home,” she said.

“We have been able to work with developers to respond to their organisation’s individual needs.  Where else in Melbourne can you build something from the ground up that that is bespoke to your company and staff? Great examples of this include the Medibank and NAB headquarters”.

“Then you look at the Collins Square project which integrates commercial office space with retail space over a whole city block on Collins Street and attracts 40,000 visitors per day.  I’m also looking forward to the progressive development of the Melbourne Quarter project which will provide the vital link between Docklands and the CBD.  

“The development of the Collins Wharf area within Victoria Harbour is also set to offer diverse residential opportunities with dual views of Victoria Harbour and the Yarra River. The amenities on offer now for people working and living in Docklands have improved immensely.”

Karen also believes the different experiences in Docklands continue to attract visitors and residents.

“There are so many choices in Docklands from fine dining to great coffee; diverse open spaces and the convenience of public transport.  It has just continued to grow over the past few years,” she said.

“We also need to remember that Docklands is nowhere near completed.  By 2025, it will welcome approximately 20,000 residents and 60,000 workers, with $17.5 billion of private investment in the precinct.”

Karen’s career at Development Victoria has also flourished.  Starting in a support role on residential subdivision projects, she has become a leader within the precincts team.

An arts degree with a double major in criminology and politics is not the background you would associate with someone who has spent the past 10-plus years working in the property industry.  While it was a great foundation, once Karen’s interest in the property was sector was triggered, she embarked on further education to enhance her knowledge and has since completed a Masters in Social Science (Environment and Planning).

“When I started at Development Victoria, I was working in a project assistant capacity and my goal was to become a Development Manager.  I was determined to take every opportunity in an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated and I have appreciated the incredible support received along the way,” she said.

“My approach to business is built on fostering relationships and developing trust.  There is a misconception that you need to be dominant or aggressive in this industry but I believe it is the relationships that help you succeed.”

Karen said there is a strong focus on empowering females within Development Victoria and almost half of the staff are female, with a high percentage working at Development Manager or Development Director level.

Among this group are four employees, including Karen, who have recently been accepted into the Property Council of Australia’s 500 Women in Property program, an initiative aimed at championing women in the industry by offering networking and professional development opportunities.

The 500 Women in Property program provides networking opportunities and professional development.  The Property Council is aiming to sponsor 500 women in property each year to be a part of the program.

Karen is being sponsored by Development Victoria’s Acting CEO Angela Skandarajah, and said it is a great opportunity to learn from other accomplished property professionals and enhance her networks within the industry.

“I hope that other females aspiring to become leaders within the property industry can look at my journey.  I really want to be a positive and strong role model for others.”

Development Victoria is responsible for planning and delivering urban revitalisation for the benefit of Victorians.  Development Victoria seeks out opportunities to increase housing diversity in places close to jobs, transport and services; leads projects to create cultural, recreational and civic facilities that enrich communities; and revitalises urban precincts to stimulate economic activity.