Local consortium Trevor and Helen Butcher, Don and Sue Culvenor and Calum McClure (his father, Gary, is presently overseas)
A packed gallery turned out to the hear Mount Alexander Shire Council announce its intention to sell the Old Castlemaine Gaol for $550,000 to a local consortium.
The consortium is led by well-known locals Gary McClure, Trevor Butcher and Don Culvenor and their families.
The group says it wants to create a `vibrant community asset for Castlemaine, a multipurpose regeneration of the existing gaol site along with residences around the perimeter'.
It has flagged an intention to develop a quality environment that will result in full occupancy of working spaces; as well as create a new destination for tourism, conferences, artisans, schools, weddings and other visitors.
Council put the old gaol on the market with real estate agents Colliers International in May and attracted six submissions after a six-week marketing campaign.
At Tuesday's meeting, council voted unanimously (Cr Tracey Cross was absent) to advertise its intention to accept the offer of $550,000, including GST, to allow the land to be used and developed for the purpose of community amenity and residential development with a 90 day settlement period.
A public notice will be advertised in the Midland Express and council will receive written submissions on the matter until 5pm on Wednesday, September 19.
A Special Council Meeting will be called to hear people who want to speak in support of their submissions at the Castlemaine Senior Citizens Centre on Monday, September 24, at 7.30pm.
Council will consider the submissions and decide whether to proceed with the sale at a council meeting in Sutton Grange, the following night, September 25, at 7.30pm.
Council will then go into `caretaker mode' at midnight on September 25, which means that no major decisions can be made until after the council elections on October 27.
Mayor Janet Cropley said this week the old gaol had been a difficult issue for council with a number of options considered over the past few years.
"This proposal represents the best chance for the gaol to have a viable future whilst maintaining community access and use," Cr Cropley said.
"The gaol is in a Residential Zone and has a Heritage Listing and we are confident that these existing controls will ensure any development is appropriate and sympathetic to the heritage value of the site."
Excited but ...
Consortium member, Don Culvenor told the Mail: "We are excited but apprehensive until it actually happens."
Consortium partner, Trevor Butcher says the group knows it has got a lot of work ahead of it.
"As three local families, we have each had some pretty big projects in the past, but there is a long way to go with this one and some long time lines on the project," Mr Butcher said.
Gary McClure said the group was looking forward to engaging with residents as soon as practical to gain an understanding of the views being expressed by the community.
"Our thoughts on developing the site include appropriate residential buildings to fit with the character of the site," Mr McClure said.
"Beyond that, we would ideally like to develop a diverse community arts and hospitality hub that benefits Castlemaine. However, the long-term viability of any proposal is crucial. We don't want to start something that again fails within a few years from lack of support."
What it's worth
The Old Castlemaine Gaol was built between 1856 and 1861. The Gaol was decommissioned in 1990 and sold by the State Government to the City of Castlemaine.
The valuation for the old gaol as at June 10, 2012 was $1.2 million and the preferred tender price is 58 per cent lower than the current valuation. But according to the latest council report on the matter, `the valuers noted that since the date of the previous assessment, market conditions for unusual and challenging properties without any established cash flow (particularly in regional areas) had deteriorated'.
The Friends of the Old Castlemaine Gaol made a late bid to save the old gaol for community use and is now pushing for the community to write to the council and voice its opposition to the sale.
A representative from one of the rejected tenders was present and spoke at the meeting. "Ours is a community-owned and managed proposal," said representative Eliza Tree. "We clearly stated within our tender a direct request to council for consultation and to discuss the details of our proposal.
"This was not allowed and the community proposal was treated in accordance with the commercial process.
"It is so frustrating, but we have not given up," said Ms Tree. "We have had significant pledges of support to fund the establishment and running costs of the property for the first two years.
"It is just regrettable that council will not engage in any dialogue about our proposal."
Community consultation was also a concern raised by another speaker in the public question time.
Jacqueline Brodie-Hanns, on behalf of the Friends of the Old Castlemaine Gaol, asked what sort of community consultation would be available to allow the public to provide feedback.
"Will the community be given the chance to participate, to contribute, to be consulted?" Ms Brodie-Hanns said. "Will the process be open, transparent and represent a true consultation with the community?"
Outside the public forum, Ms Brodie-Hanns expressed her concern that this would not transpire.
"The last proper consultation occurred in February 2009 when council spent $80,000 on a Sydney-based consultant to conduct a public information session and prepare a report. We've tried to obtain a copy of that report but council will not supply it.
"This latest process is limited to the public making submissions about the proposal to sell, without actually having all the details of the sale proposal available. It makes a mockery of the very notion of community consultation."
The shire's CEO, Phil Rowland repeatedly explained the process for the sale of the old gaol and council's obligations under the Local Government Act once it had entered into the process.