Newcastle’s iconic post office building is set to be transformed into a function centre after the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council last night approved the sale of the building to Sydney-based cosmetic surgeon Jerry Schwartz.
About 40 land council members met for an hour before unanimously supporting a recommendation to sell the heritage building for $3.5 million.
“It’s a tremendous result for the Awabakal Land Council but also, as members emphasised, for the Newcastle Community itself,” land council administrator Terry Lawler said.
“Clearly the way the post office has been for many years has been inappropriate. It’s such an iconic important building in an important space so it’s a real opportunity for it to be restored to its former grandeur and be used for community purposes.”
Dr Schwartz has proposed creating a function centre on the building's first floor. The ground floor would feature wedding retail outlets such as dress shops, florists and photographers. The basement would be used as an Aboriginal cultural area.
Dr Schwartz, who described the project as a “labour of love”, said work on asbestos removal and other decontamination could start before Christmas with construction commencing in earnest next year providing the necessary approvals are in place.
“This is a great day for Newcastle. Finally something positive is going to happen to this beautiful and significant building,” Dr Schwartz said last night.
Read more: The Post Office cannot be left to rot
“The first thing I want to get up and running is the Aboriginal cultural centre in the basement.”
A security guard vetted Awabakal members as they entered last night’s meeting after a meeting scheduled to resolve the matter last month was cancelled when former chairwoman Debbie Dates attended.
Awabakal administrator Terry Lawler suspended Ms Dates from attending land council meetings in June after determining that her conduct had been detrimental to the best interests of the council.
Ms Dates and family members attempted to attend last night’s meeting but were refused entry.
Dr Schwartz owns several hotels in Newcastle and Hunter Valley. His bid was among 11 expressions of interest that were lodged for the 1903 building from hospitality and educational organisations.
The sale will be complete after relevant statutory approvals are obtained from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
“We are hopeful the applications will be dealt with expeditiously,” solicitor for the administrator Amy Taylor of Catalyst Legal said.
The Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, which acquired the building following a successful 2014 land claim, had initially intended to use it as an Aboriginal medical centre.
Dr Schwartz made a bid for the post office when it was put to auction in 2010 by then owner, Sydney-based developer Sean Ngu, with the sale also including multiple poker machine licences.
It was passed in and later bought by the NSW government for $4.6 million before the NSW Land and Environment Court awarded the building to the Awabakal Land Council.
The council initially planned to use the building as an Aboriginal health and cultural centre, however, it was unable to raise the estimated $15 million needed to restore the building to a point where it could be occupied.
It listed the post office for sale through Colliers International late last year and the expression of interest phase closed in November 2017.
“We went through a rigorous international EOI process since October. We have been able to work with Awabakal and the buyers to get an amazing outcome for the city,” Colliers International national director of commercial sales and leasing Adam Leacy said.