Little Lane Learning plots timeline to develop Australia’s biggest childcare centre

Little Lane Learning – a childcare centre operator owned by Sydney-based husband and wife, Mike Wu and Shan Kuo – has won approval to build a landmark $100 million facility in South Melbourne.

Emerald Place, as it will be known (artist’s impression, top), will be the biggest childcare centre in Australia and one of the largest in the world, according to local agents.

The complex is earmarked for 68 Buckhurst Street, a 9356 square metre site which Little Lane Learning outmuscled residential developers to buy, paying $61.8 million in 2017 (the parcel was offered permit-ready for four 30-plus storey apartment skyscrapers – see artist’s impression, below).

Little Lane Learning acquired 68 Buckhurst Street, South Melbourne, which was offered permit-ready for these four 30-plus level apartment buildings.

Following the settlement of the South Melbourne block, Mr Wu and Ms Shan appointed Japanese childcare centre specialist architect Takaharu Tezuka to pen Emerald Place.

The 380-place facility, to be managed by 100 staff, will include a pool from which swimming lessons will be offered. It will also include a fruit orchard, and creek.

Construction is set to begin in January with the first customers welcomed from 2021.

Emerald Place is expected to be a hit with both the rising number of residents who are moving into Southbank, Docklands and the CBD, according to Sandro Peluso, director of CBRE’s healthcare and social infrastructure department.

City workers, too, are also expected to utilise Emerald Place, for childcare services during business hours.

Elsewhere in South Melbourne

Across the road from Emerald Place, a public garden is proposed for a property which made headlines for costing the state government $19 million in 2015 – some $14 million more than the vendor paid eight years earlier.

The former Liberal government famously agreed to purchase the 4000 sqm park site from coffee entrepreneur Pitzy Folk, following a Capital City 1 rezoning it implemented, which ballooned the market value, because it allowed for high rise residential development.

The case highlighted the rushed nature of the rezoning, and that the government didn’t forward-plan for public space, before introducing a landmark planning decision (which the incoming Andrews government later substantially amended).

Earlier this year, we reported about a premium grade childcare centre at 97 Tope Street, South Melbourne, which sold for $10.25 million. The vendor, Melinda Cohen, spent $6.3 million on this complex’s fit out.

Little Lane Learning’s $150 million childcare portfolio EOI closes next week

Last month, Mr Wu and Ms Kao listed for sale a portfolio of seven education investments on Australia’s east coast via CBRE.

The portfolio is the biggest of its type to be offered to the Australian market and is expected to reap more than $150 million.

Three of the complex – including a $35 million facility in Bowen Hills, Brisbane, and centres in Melbourne’s Hawthorn and Box Hill (each worth about $24 million) are expected to smash the $21 million record for an Australian childcare investment, paid for an Artarmon property, last year.

This Bowen Hills childcare centre would be Australia’s most expensive traded, if it sells for its c$35 million price guide.

About 18 months ago Mr Wu and Ms Kao sold Folkestone Education Trust a portfolio of nine childcare investments, for $63.2 million (Charter Hall Education Trust later took over the Folkestone trust).

In August the pair spent $20 million on an office in Melbourne’s Doncaster, which is expected to be renovated, incorporating a Little Lane Learning Centre.

The operators also recently acquired the heritage listed Drummoyne Reservoir in Sydney’s inner-west from Sydney Water with the intention to fit it out as a multi-level childcare centre.

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Marc Pallisco

A former property analyst and print journalist, Marc is the publisher of