Coffs Harbour Museum sold for $1m to fund $81m Cultural and Civic Space project

Historic Coffs Harbour Museum has been sold to an undisclosed buyer for $1 million by Coffs Harbour City Council. Photo: Emma Darbin.

 

THE historic Coffs Harbour Museum has been sold for $1m to help fund construction of the controversial $81m Cultural and Civic Space (CCS) project in Coffs Harbour.

Coffs Harbour City Council had previously rejected an offer for $950,000 for the Museum in October, 2020, and then resolved in March this year to place a protective covenant on the Museum to protect the building’s heritage and historic value in anticipation of a potential future sale.

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The Museum building located in Harbour Drive, Coffs Harbour, was formerly used as a police station and courthouse in the area.

Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight urged councillors to move forward with the Museum sale at Council’s meeting on Thursday 8 July.

“I think it’s about time that we were moving forward on this,” Cr Knight stated.

“We did put up that this building would be heritage listed and we know that the potential buyer is very interested and will keep it that way.”

Mayor Knight said she had personally spoken with the potential buyer of the Museum on the day of the Council meeting and that he had informed her that he will “absolutely preserve this building”.

Cr Keith Rhoades spoke against the sale at the Council meeting.

“This is one of the last remaining pieces of our local history, information about our town’s past,” Cr Rhoades stressed.

“In two or three or four generations time they’re going to look around this city and say ‘is everything just bricks and mortar’

“That building has got a unique character.”

Cr Rhoades said the size of the block of land at the Museum and the price that had been offered for it did not match.

“It’s worth far more than that,” he said.

“Sometimes a lot of its value is not in a monetary dollar term, it’s in being a part of the history of our town.

“We know that the money’s gonna be used for the CCS project, but really for the price being offered and the price of the CCS project, it’s like a full stop at the end of a sentence.”

Cr Rhoades expressed his concern that placing a heritage listing on the Museum would not stop the building from being altered in the future.

“This building is a part of our past and we need to preserve it for future generations to be able to see,” Cr Rhoades said.

“I will not be supporting the sale of that property.”

Cr Michael Adendorff ensured Cr Rhoades that protective covenants were “indeed enforceable”.

“Heritage listing is a severe constraint on property and it has to take a brave person to let himself or herself into a heritage protected property with an aim to develop that property,” Cr Adendorff explained.

“I wouldn’t do it, and I know of many other developers who would never do it.”

Cr Adendorff stated that Council should never have bought the Museum building and that he would be “glad to see it out of our portfolio”.

“This property’s location creates severe difficulties for it as a Council asset,” he said.

“I’ve said this before, I don’t think we ever should have bought this property.

“There is a sense of nostalgia obviously when you talk about anything, but it will soon pass.”

Cr John Arkan spoke against the Museum sale and said the building linked the CBD area to the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden.

“It’s very important to link parts of the CBD together so that there’s a continuous flow,” Cr Arkan said.

“If we go and sell things like this there is no other big piece of Council land there close to the Botanical Garden.

“This is a gorgeous piece of land in the heart of Coffs Harbour, we owe it to the future generations to keep it and allow it to link this important area (the Cultural and Civic Space project) and then link it to the Botanical Gardens.”

Cr Paul Amos chose to jump ship and support the sale of the Museum, which he had previously opposed.

“I feel like I should explain myself because I have voted against selling this property throughout this,” Cr Amos stated.

“The way I’m looking at this now is, I’m comfortable that the heritage value will be preserved and it will be in reasonable hands, so I think we’ve got that now in place.

“I see that this block now will be restricted as to what they can develop.”

However, Cr Amos said that while he believed the current Museum to be too small for Council’s needs, the new Museum site within the Cultural and Civic Space building was not the answer.

“At this stage this museum probably has reached its potential with regards to what we can do with it as a museum and it has limitations into the future, so I’ll be supporting the sale of this building,” Cr Amos said.

“I really think that moving on from that property and into the Cultural and Civic Space building will not be the answer because we won’t have a dedicated museum as we know it, we will have a lot of historical displays.

“I think ultimately we will be sourcing another site for a museum down the track and it will probably be more purpose-built.”

Councillors voted for the Coffs Harbour Museum sale 5 votes to 3, with Crs Denise Knight, Michael Adendorff, Paul Amos, George Cecato and Sally Townley voting for the sale and Crs John Arkan, Keith Rhoades and Tegan Swan voting against.

As part of the sale, Council will occupy the Museum property and enter into a three-year lease with a rent of $60,500 per annum until the new Museum in the Cultural and Civic Space building is constructed.

The Museum has been owned by Council since 2010 and has operated as Coffs Harbour Museum ever since.

 

By Emma DARBIN

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