The future of the iconic Hotel Australasia remains up in the air, as stakeholders wait for the Land and Environment Court’s decision to be handed down.
Commissioner Annelise Tuor was initially due to make her decision on August 1, but a Land and Environment Court spokesperson has told the Magnet that the court is waiting on further information to be provided by Great Southern Developments before the case can proceed.
Developer Rodney Thompson is on annual leave until Thursday, August 21, and it remains unclear when the matter will return to court.
The ‘Save the Pit’ group, led by Eden builder Peter Whiter, heritage expert and historian Angela George and the Wykes family, have been working for the past fortnight to garner support to purchase the heritage section of the hotel, which Mr Thompson has offered to subdivide and sell for $500,000.
The offer was made on July 31, the day after Bega Valley Shire Council voted to approve a Development Application for the site, allowing the hotel to be demolished to make way for construction of a supermarket.
Without Council's opposition, Commissioner Tuor is expected to rule for demolition.
The initial offer of subdivision came with a two-week deadline, ending yesterday (August 14), but that has now been relaxed.
“Before he went on leave, Rodney said to just keep talking to him and telling him how we’re going,” Mr Whiter said.
“He didn’t quantify how long we’ve got, but there will obviously be an end to it.”
Mr Thompson told the Magnet on Monday that the extension would not be a long one, given his company's financial commitments around the site.
The campaign group believes its best chance of securing the retention of the front 15 metres, which includes the 1906 heritage façade, is for Bega Valley Shire Council to take ownership on behalf of the community.
But deputy mayor Russell Fitzpatrick says that until the Land and Environment Court’s decision is known, Council is “hamstrung”.
“We can’t make any decision one way or another until that happens,” Cr Fitzpatrick said.
“If [Great Southern Developments] are serious about subdividing the building and selling off the front section, that would require a new DA [Development Application].
“The DA in its current form would have to be withdrawn, and we would have to look at the new one before we decide on anything.”
If successful in finding a buyer, the ‘Save the Pit’ group plans to restore the 1906 façade, currently hidden behind a 1950s do-over, and transform the space into a commercial business operation.
The plan includes a wine or tapas bar, an art gallery and a community hub.
A community fund has been set up to help the group achieve this, and Mr Whiter is urging members of the community to express their interest in donating.
Mr Whiter said that every donation will help the group to demonstrate community support for the retention and revitalisation of the hotel, and also potentially help secure larger contributions.
“All the money pledged to the community fund would go towards the restoration, not into the purchase,” he said.
“Anyone who is interested in helping us can send an email telling us how many they would be willing to pledge, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Then please, have a conversation about it; tell your mates.
“If one person gives us $20, and they tell a mate who gives us $20, and they then do the same, that’s $60.
“Then if we’re successful in obtaining a heritage grant where the government matches donations dollar for dollar, we have $120.
“That’s just from three people; if everyone chips in just a bit, it will go a long way.”
Ms George also dispelled any talk that the fight is simply about nostalgia.
“It’s not just about the building. It’s about what the building can offer the town and the community,” she said.
“We need to nurture this tourism industry and give it every opportunity to succeed; it’s the only industry we’ve got that’s growing, and there will be employment opportunities that come with it.”
“If you take away a heritage building, all of a sudden part of the experience is gone.”