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Commercial Hotel – A glimmer of hope

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Comercial Hotel in Warialda avoids Demolition

When Gwydir Shire Council purchased the freehold of the Commercial Hotel in Stephen Street Warialda, and then decided to knock it down and turn the block into a park, there was significant blow-back from the community. Those against the idea seemed to outnumber those for, and there were plenty of accusations about the lack of consultation. However, Council had complied with requirements, the matter was listed on meeting agendas, recorded in minutes, placed on their web page, and the Mayor, Cr John Coulton had mentioned the purchase in Gwydir News, admittedly after the event.

Therefore, the only thing in dispute was the passive nature of consultation and considering the public’s response, active consultation in the form of a public meeting, would have been very helpful.

Bingara Magazine carried an online article which was widely read and recently followed it up with an online poll, to replicate a virtual public meeting. The response was huge with a reach of well over 16,000 people and of those, 3387 bothered to become engaged. Please click below to read a selection of the comments.

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Questions for Council

Most of the comments were positive, overwhelming in favour of retaining the building and many people suggested a range of uses. They were constructive, responsible, frustrated, but far from totally negative. Mayor Coulton was then asked to respond to three questions: –

  1. “As the hotel only closed recently (some said six months), should more time be given in case another licensee turns up?”
  2. Council, in regard to community consultation has said, ( I think), that about 5 years ago a survey  indicated that people would like more parks, and the decision to redevelop the land was conveyed in your column in Gwydir News. “What do you say to the claim that this was really very passive consultation, as opposed to active engagement by way of a public meeting, to gather support and also listen to other options?”
  3. “Would Council consider a pause to allow time for active engagement with the community and at least take them with it, even if the only option is a park.”

Mayor’s response

Mayor Coulton replied: –

“Thanks for your interest in the Commercial hotel in Warialda. The hotel’s previous owner sold the liquor and poker machine licenses closed the business and walked away. In other words he left a building in the main street of town to decay and eventually fall down. Council considered a decaying building and a closed business not a good look.

The hotel has been closed for approximately 18 months now and the storage sheds at the back have been vandalised with doors pulled of hinges and contents stolen. In that time no members of the public have considered purchasing the building and restoring it or repurposing it.

The elected members of council have made a firm decision to demolish the building and transform the 2000 sq meter block into an area that will be attractive and useful to the public. Warialda has a club that is struggling to survive and a hotel which appears to be a well run viable business. That town has shown that it cannot support a second hotel any longer.

This matter has been discussed at length and on numerous occasions at council meetings”

In what may provide a glimmer of hope, the Mayor later added:

“If any person or groups wish to buy the hotel and repurpose the building then Council would be happy to enter negotiations with a view to a sale.”

What of the future?

Firstly, the gate is firmly closed on the possibility to meet with the community regarding retaining the building and inviting expressions of interest for alternative uses. Secondly, the chances of someone interested in taking over the license are seemingly remote. Finally, unless someone comes forward quickly, the pub will be knocked down and a new park created. While this is not an unattractive idea, many of those surveyed will feel it falls well short of retaining building and making good use of what it has to offer.

A Glimmer of hope

I think the key thing that has come out of Bingara Magazine’s interest in the issue and the effort to help find a way forward for the Warialda community, is the offer by Mayor Coulton to accept expressions of interest from business and property investors. This, in my opinion offers some hope of it being retained as a centre of business for the Warialda CBD, rather than a passive park. Business and employment hold a town’s commercial centre together, parks help attract customers, but the link to job creation is flimsy.

Thus, Bingara Magazine will promote the hotel as an investment opportunity across the Warialda, Bingara, Inverell, Moree districts, plus elsewhere in the north. With the help of our Facebook followers and our loyal readers, we might just find an entrepreneur. (Rod)

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