WHEN it comes to the heritage of this city, the former Newcastle post office is far and away the most important sandstone building that we have.
The treatment of this 115-year-old neo-classical beauty has been disgraceful, from the time that Australia Post decided it was surplus to needs some 18 years ago. A building that probably should have remained in public ownership was instead disposed of by the Howard government, triggering an unfortunate chain of events that have left this still beautiful but damaged structure where it is today – a dilapidated shadow of its former self.
Having rejected an offer from Newcastle RSL, the post office was sold to a developer in 2002 for less than $2 million. When that plan failed, the building was sold in 2010 to the state Labor government when Jodi McKay was Newcastle MP. Four years later the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council assumed control of the now-deteriorating building in a state land claim. But the Awabakal, with well-publicised problems of their own, have been forced to offer it for sale for a third time, with agents Colliers International confirming 11 bids after an international marketing campaign.
Real estate deals are usually done on the quiet, but Sydney investor and cosmetic surgeon Jerry Schwartz seems to pride himself on doing the unusual. With Colliers as long as two months away from a decision, Mr Schwartz has happily identified himself as one of the bidders, with a proposal to use it as a conference and function centre with restaurant and bar to complement the operations of his two hotels in Newcastle, Novotel on the Beach and the Crowne Plaza.
We are yet to hear what any of the other bids entail.
Regardless of who buys it, the costs of reviving this elegant piece of architecture will be substantial. And that’s why the post office saga has been one of the more dispiriting events in the city’s recent history. With projects elsewhere in the CBD going ahead in leaps and bounds, the post office has become a symbol of what can go wrong when important but expensive buildings – especially ones that began in public hands – are allowed to deteriorate.
In this light, Awabakal and Colliers should surely accept the offer that is best for the building, rather than the one that necessarily offers the most money.
It is simply the right thing to do.