TONIGHT’S council meeting took the first step towards seeking expressions of interest for the sensitive redevelopment of the council-owned section of the Willow Court historic site in New Norfolk. This is not to say the council is going sell what is left, or that we are giving up on the site.
The first stage of the redevelopment of the Barracks precinct is almost complete, but that is only the start of what is required to turn a derelict hospital into a world-class visitor attraction. That is still my aim and the council’s ambition, but with all funding now exhausted and no new money on the horizon, all options must be explored if we are to maintain the recently-established momentum.
This has been the subject of discussion at councillor workshops over recent months as it has become apparent that funding requests to the State and Federal governments have been unsuccessful. In a report to tonight’s council meeting held at Bushy Park, the general manager wrote: “It is now seen that council’s only option, without placing greater strain on council’s operating budget, that calling for expressions of interest is now the only reasonable option for developing the site to achieve a tourism or commercial outcome for the Willow Court precinct.”
Last month a briefing was given to representatives of the Friends of Willow Court, Friends of Frescati and the Australian Paranormal Investigation Unit in recognition of their interest and out of respect for their ongoing interest in the site. Tonight’s meeting endorsed my motion that the council seek expressions of interest for the development of the council-owned sections of Willow Court. Council workshops over the next few weeks will refine the draft terms of reference already prepared by the general manager so that they may be tabled at next month’s council meeting.
In calling for expressions of interest, the council has no preconceived notions or expectations other than a desire to receive submissions from individuals, groups or commercial operators to develop the site to its full potential. This could involve small-scale visitor operations, long-term leases or even the sale of the site under the right circumstances. We are not expecting anyone to come forward offering $10 million to complete the restoration in one hit, but should such a proposal be received it would have to be considered along with all others.
Meanwhile, the council continues to apply for grants for Willow Court and has not stopped lobbying at State and Federal levels for government support. We have lodged our nomination for National Heritage List recognition for the site and we have established a partnership with Flinders University that will potentially see hundreds of archaeology students visiting us over the next 10 years. The latter has started in a small way this year with a successful field school conducted last month.