Community lobby group, Eden’s Australasia, has called on Bega Valley Shire councillors to “seriously rethink” accepting either of the two tenders it has received for the historic hotel.
In a letter to councillors this week, the group highlighted “the opportunities the building [Hotel Australasia] offers council to benefit financially from cultural tourism and employment opportunities”.
The early 1900s hotel building was situated in a heritage precinct – that included the financially successful Eden Killer Whale Museum and increasingly popular Mary MacKillop Hall – that appealed to tourists, the group said.
A regional gallery situated in the Hotel Australasia would attract passing foot traffic and would complement council’s recent investment in the CBD’s improved streetscape, it added..
“Why would you sell the Australasia site for a rock bottom price to developers with mediocre plans?” it asked, adding that there were state government cultural and heritage grants available to turn the old hotel into a regional gallery.
Cr Sharon Tapscott said it would be a “lost opportunity” if council failed to explore the possibility of the Hotel Australasia as a new regional gallery. It was her understanding that council was not obliged to accept either of the tenders it had received for the hotel.
Cr Robyn Bain told the Magnet that she was “unconvinced” of the need to move the gallery from Bega: the $7million commemorative centre was significantly under-utilised, and could be modified to provide an improved space for the regional gallery in Bega; the existing gallery could be converted into much-needed additional space for council staff.
“Council has agreed to sell the Australiasia, for it to have a new life in the hands of private enterprise, and hopefully create much needed employment for the town,” Cr Bain said.
But she added: “If you were wanting the regional art gallery near tourists, you would put in in Eden as that is where the tourists are coming to in the future, cruise ships etc.”
She doubted that council would get any more government funding, given that it was already seeking $5million for Twyford Hall.
BVSC general manager Leanne Barnes said the tender process for the Hotel Australasia was in its “final stages”; council also was undertaking widespread community consultation into potential sites for the gallery.