December 5th, 2021Hepburn Hub project scrapped, Rex for sale
THE controversial Hepburn Hub at The Rex project has been scrapped.
Hepburn Shire Council voted at its November 23 meeting to sell the building. The council bought the Vincent Street, Daylesford former theatre in 2016 for $6 million. It has since spent $3 million on the building which was to house a cinema, staff offices, a library and public toilets, with another $6 million needed to complete the project.
Council officers had recommended that the council continue with the project. Councillors in favour of continuing with the hub were Cr Jen Bray, Cr Tessa Halliday and Mayor Cr Tim Drylie. Those against were Cr Lesley Hewitt, Cr Don Henderson, Cr Juliet Simpson and Cr Brian Hood.
The decision has been met with disbelief and anger by many people including the Daylesford Cinema committee and volunteers, who have asked council to revisit its decision.
Newly elected mayor Cr Tim Drylie said councillors realised the decision would “result in mixed feelings across our community”.
“While we recognise the value in creating a community hub and consolidation of our council offices, we ultimately decided that the best choice for the community is to discontinue the project, which now provides a clear direction for The Rex site.
“The Hepburn Hub at The Rex is a legacy project from decisions made by the previous council. We fully understand the disappointment that many in the community will be feeling, including those who were looking forward to having a community auditorium, our passionate library patrons, and council staff who were to be consolidated into one office building.”
Daylesford Community Theatre president Gina Lyons has sent an official complaint to council asking councillors to revisit their decision.
“Council’s decision on Tuesday evening came as a huge shock. We were not expecting you to abandon the project because your public statements about The Rex have been positive, for example: ‘At the council meeting on 20 July 2021, then mayor Lesley Hewitt said council’s vision was to return The Rex Theatre to the community as a public facility. In repurposing The Rex for this purpose, a number of contemporary uses have been included to maximise its use. These uses include a public auditorium, a library, public amenities, a digital co-working hub and council offices and customer service. This is to make the best use of these impressive spaces and ensure the building is preserved for the future. All its heritage features are being retained and the works completed in a way that preserves its heritage while bringing it up to current standards.’
“The council paid $6 million for a building worth $3 million, another $3 million was spent on it, if you sell for $3 million, you will be locking in a cash loss of $6 million – with nothing to show for it.
“By abandoning the project in the way you have, council has effectively killed off the cinema because you will only be focusing on alternate arrangements for staff offices and the library. The cinema is on its own. The fact is there is no other building in Daylesford which lends itself to being used as a cinema and which is available for this purpose.
“Our complaint is that the council should have consulted with Daylesford Community Theatre and the broader community about the intention to abandon the Hepburn Hub at The Rex and sell the building.
“On any reading of the (council’s community engagement) policy, the Hepburn Hub at The Rex meets the criteria of high strategic importance, high impact and with high community sentiment, therefore, there should have been consultation prior to making such a shocking, final decision to end the project, the outcome of which will spell the death of the community cinema.
“We are calling on council to revisit the decision to abandon the Hepburn Hub at The Rex and sell the building.
“We believe that council’s own policy has not been adhered to and as a result the community will not get to enjoy the many benefits the Hepburn Hub at The Rex would provide.”
Former Holcombe Ward councillor John Cottrell has sent an open letter to the council suggesting it “completes the project, brings the property to full operation – then – offers the property for sale with a long-term lease back to the council”.
“The option provides council with full construction integrity to completion and presents an attractive investment proposition – a completed and fully functioning prime centrally located property in Daylesford offering an attractive commercial return on investment.”
When the council bought The Rex in 2016, former Hepburn Shire Council CEO Aaron van Egmond said community support was overwhelming.
“I conducted 10 public consultation sessions in The Rex attended by approximately 200 people. We also made a media announcement, published newspaper and Facebook information, and provided hard copy feedback forms. The Rex is an iconic building that has been viewed by many in the community as a white elephant. The Hepburn Hub project at The Rex means this building becomes an important community asset,” Mr van Egmond said at the time.
The purchase of The Rex building and other matters relating to the project remain under investigation by the Local Government Inspectorate. It is not known when the Inspectorate will release the report.
Words & image: Donna Kelly