A PRICELESS piece of Newcastle property could earn a fresh start under a council plan to seek expressions of interest for Shepherds Hill Cottage.
The site, sitting at the top of King Edward Park and ultimately on the Bathers Way, is undergoing an overhaul the council says could cost more than $1.5 million.
But the council is hoping it can also find a new use for the former Marine Rescue base during the interim, with lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes revealing expressions of interest will open in February.
She said the ideal process would secure a use before the construction fence came down, preventing any extra delays for fit-outs or other work.
Community consultation had backed a cafe or art space, Cr Nelmes said, but the process would help ensure the site bolstered Bathers Way as an alternative to Sydney’s famed Bondi to Bronte strech.
“Our mission is to rival the Bronte walk,” she said.
“[The cottage site] is the most iconic missing link, it’s almost the midpoint of the Bathers Way.”
A tour of the heritage-protected cottage, which will have a verandah after the planned overhaul finishes in 2019, revealed severe storm damage and evidence of termites.
Council interim chief executive Jeremy Bath said expressions of interest would ensure the best option for the valuable site was picked, arguing the process offered “complete transparency”.
“The community will tell us what the best use is,” he said.
An emotional Marine Rescue Newcastle commander Ron Calman shouted at Mr Bath through the site’s construction fence on Sunday that the council’s top bureaucrat had “shown your true colours” and “shame on you”.
Mr Calman told the Herald his concern stemmed from the organisation being moved out of the site it had occupied since 2000.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years of age,” he said. “[The site] means a lot because of the observation … it actually hurts me.
“I could be home today with my life and my family but I’m out sticking up for the community.”
Mr Bath said the council was supporting Marine Rescue with free space at Warabrook and had flagged the expressions of interest with them in mid-November.
Mr Bath said the group had every right to put forward its case in a formal expression of interest, potentially paired with another group who could use other parts of the building.
Marine Rescue’s lease on the site ended two years early when restoration began.
Future uses will have to conform to the site’s heritage conservation plan.