Mudgee businessman Hugh Bateman believes a group trying to stop a hotel being built on the Regent Theatre site need to accept the “the horse has bolted”.
The Facebook group Revive The Regent Theatre has more than 1000 members and opposing a development application for a five-storey, 84 room hotel.
They believe there is still an opportunity to retain the building as a cultural centre, possibly incorporating a theatre, art gallery and other facilities.
However Mr Bateman said there had been repeated attempts in the last 10 years to restore the theatre to its former glory, but it was found to be impossible to make it financially viable.
Administrator of the Revive the Regent Facebook group, Simone Sheridan, said she couldn’t bare the thought of history and heritage of the theatre being lost and that was what had motivated her to start the movement.
She said interest in the group had grown in recent weeks, especially since the plans for the hotel had been revealed, and she felt an obligation to do something.
She welcomed a decision by the Mid-Western Regional Council to extend submissions on the DA from November 17 to December 1 because of public interest.
“We are just trying to make the community aware that this development application is there and advising them to have their say on it,” she said.
Ms Sheridan said Mudgee lacked cultural facilities and felt a revamped theatre would help keep young people in the town and even lure others like herself back.
“The point of this group is to bring people together to discuss the opportunities,” she said.
“It’s not that we are opposed to hotels, I’m passionate about economic development and small business, but there are other locations.
“People might say I don’t even live in Mudgee but that’s because there are no job opportunities there for me but if we could make this happen, it would bring people back.”
Ms Sheridan said she felt too much focus was on the viability of a cinema. She said getting the building identified as heritage-listed accessing state government grants was one option.
Now someone owns it and they have a plan. It’s a matter of council examining the DA and if it complies with the current regulations, council can’t knock it back.- Hugh Bateman
Using the venue for weddings, as had previously occurred, was another potential money spinner.
Mr Bateman said the reality was the building had been sold and the hotel should go ahead as long as it met regulations.
The businessman said he was frustrated people had accused him of not doing everything he could to see it restored.
He said it had been sold three times since ceasing to operate as a cinema in 2006 and when he acted as agent in 2007 and 2014, significant effort was put into finding buyers who would make it work.
“It just wasn’t a viable venture. We sent emails and letters to all the possible theatre owners across Australia, we approached council staff, the general manager at the time and the mayor at the time,” Mr Bateman said.
Council had the chance to purchase the property at good prices in both 2007 and 2014, Mr Bateman said, but declined and instead chose to to redevelop the town hall and include a cinema there.
Part of the reason council dismissed the idea of renovating the Regent was because they estimated it would cost $4.7 million to renovate it.
“I was really keen from a cultural point of view, to see it become a cultural centre. I thought it could have been used as an art gallery, library and even as a tourist office,” he said.
Mr Bateman said he even looked at purchasing the building himself and restoring it to keep its heritage value but couldn’t find a way to make it work.
He said it was time to accept that a hotel would be a vast improvement on what was there.
“I am encouraged by people’s enthusiasm but the horse has bolted. If the building was for sale this would be a good campaign but that building has sat vacant for 10 years, been sold three times and nothing has happened,” he said.
“Now someone owns it and they have a plan. It’s a matter of council examining the DA and if it complies with the current regulations, council can’t knock it back.”
Ms Sheridan said she felt there must be somebody out there who had the money and the appreciation of the art deco building, who would consider doing it up.
“We have a network of 1000 people who are really passionate about this project and we would be willing to work together to help find someone who would buy it,” she said.
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