July 31st, 2022The Rex now for sale to the highest bidder
HEPBURN Shire Council will sell The Rex building to the highest bidder despite 66 per cent of survey respondents being against the move.
The decision was made at its July 19 meeting with a council report saying the cost of continuing with the project would “now likely be in excess of $18 million (in addition to the costs already expended)”.
The council bought the Vincent Street, Daylesford former theatre and shopping arcade in 2016 for $6M. It has since spent $3M on the building. The Hub was to include a library, auditorium, council office spaces, community spaces, including a co-working space, and public toilets.
In June 2018, work on The Rex building stopped after it was realised the construction and refurbishment costs would exceed the initial budget of just under $1M, triggering the need for a planning permit.
A number of people spoke to councillors at the July meeting, including Daylesford Community Theatre president Gina Lyons, asking them to reconsider the sale.
Cr Tessa Halliday put forward a motion to hold off any decisions until November to give the community and the council time to work together to find a way to provide community facilities at The Rex including public toilets, the cinema and community spaces. The motion was supported by Mayor Cr Tim Drylie and Cr Jen Bray but was ultimately lost.
The council first decided in November last year not to proceed with the Hepburn Hub at The Rex project and sell the building. Under the Local Government Act this process required community engagement.
Council officers will now start the sale of The Rex and a house at 8 Duke Street, with external agents appointed to assist and prepare a final report for council when a buyer is identified. The council will also now review its land and building holdings and undertake a planning project that will review possible solutions of staffing accommodation and community facilities that were to be included in the Hepburn Hub.
It will set a reserve price for sale based on an independent market valuation and will publicly release the reserve price value after the sale.
At the council meeting, Ms Lyons told councillors The Rex was the cinema’s only hope of survival. “Whenever it has needed to step up and affirm its support for the cinema, the community has done so. In 2017, the overwhelming response from the community led to the council resolving to include the cinema in the Hub at The Rex.
“After the November council meeting 1200 people signed a petition protesting the decision to abandon the project and sell the building, and recently, 369 submissions were received in the community consultation with concern about the cinema expressed by the majority of those people.
“Overall, 66 per cent of respondents were against the sale. Birch Ward accounted for 57 per cent of responses and 75 per cent of people were against the sale. This council was elected on a platform of listening to the community. Making a quick decision tonight to sell the building flies in the face of the community’s wishes.”
Ms Lyons said the Daylesford Community Theatre had explored other potential sites, however, these locations posed their own sets of problems and restrictions and would not work as a cinema.
“The cinema was a vital, vibrant and successful enterprise and it can be so again for the benefit of the community and visitors alike. Clawing back a few million dollars by selling The Rex is not compensation enough for the loss of the site to the community. The Rex has a value to us far in excess of what a developer would be willing to pay.”
Also at the meeting, Cr Jen Bray said she was saddened and disappointed that the council had largely ignored the results of the community engagement survey.
“(It shows) that 66 per cent of the community want to keep this beautiful, historic building as a community asset as an arts and cultural, social and economic hub in the prime location on our main street.”
Cr Bray said she supported holding off on the sale until November but if that did not happen she would have hoped The Rex was sold by expression of interest.
“This would have allowed council to have the final say on who buys this building. We would have had the chance to weigh up different proposals and offers and make a judgment on not just the final price, but on whether it meets the needs of this community. This would mean the best possible outcome both for council’s financial health and for the health and wellbeing of the community.”
Cr Bray said the sale of The Rex now meant CEO Bradley Thomas had the authority to sell to the highest offer once the reserve price was met. “The CEO will not be able to factor in community facilities or other benefits into the decision making. They must only consider price.
“I know that the community have a deep connection to this building and they want to see it restored and revived to provide a dynamic social, cultural and economic hub in the centre of our town. Many want it to be the home for the community cinema and there have been lots of other creative ideas about ways this space could benefit the community. This could have been a win-win story.”
The Local asked real estate agents from around the region what price they thought the council could get for The Rex.
Their answers ranged from $3.5M to $5M with one adding “if they can find anyone at all”. They cited the unfinished building works, bad publicity and potential damage in the building as reasons it would be hard to land a sale.
A council report said possible uses for The Rex were broad and could include, some dependant on permits, accommodation, a child care centre, a cinema, a place of worship, an adult sex product shop, a leisure and recreation facility or a warehouse.
Prohibited uses for the site are animal production, a corrective institution, a major sports and recreation facility or a motor racing track.
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 its report.
Words & image: Donna Kelly