Hastings' historic Albert Hotel has been sold to a businessman who hopes to develop the site into a green space and European-style square with eateries and an outdoor movie screen.
Michael Whittaker bought the Historic Places Trust-listed building on the corner of Heretaunga St and Karamu Rd on Friday for an undisclosed sum, and intends to demolish it.
"The plan is to develop an inner-city square, what we're loosely calling Albert Square, consisting of some small eatery kiosks around a park or town square, which will include water features, greenery and trees," Mr Whittaker said.
"It will have a European influence. It's really about trying to create a hub in that eastern precinct of Hastings."
The movie screen, on the wall of an existing building, could also be used to show big sports events or other productions in a bid to draw people to the square, he said.
The hotel is an earthquake risk and was deemed dangerous after it stopped operating as a pub in late 2009. In mid-2010 the Historic Places Trust eased protection of the building by requiring that just the facade had to remain.
Even so, it was still enough to deter several potential developers from buying the 1600 square metre site.
Although Mr Whittaker's plans involve dismantling the hotel, he is in talks with the Historic Places Trust as to how its heritage might be marked.
Because the building has a Category 2 listing, a resource consent will be needed to dismantle it. Mr Whittaker plans to lodge an application in the coming weeks. "We're fully aware there is a process to go through. We're hoping we can come to an agreement.
"The reality is the main facade of the Albert will have to come down, but there are parts of the site we hope will retain the heritage for future generations," he said.
"It will take a little bit away from Hastings, but it's also putting a heck of a lot back. We're not putting up an office building or retail. We're developing something that effectively becomes a public facility and gives that eastern end of town a chance to rejuvenate."
He hoped work might start in the middle of next year. The development will be privately funded.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said he was pleased the property had finally changed hands.
"I've had a number of people come to me to talk about the site over the past few years. Some have looked at redevelopment using the existing building and all of them have said it wouldn't work," Mr Yule said.
"I like the concept in that it will bring life and hospitality to that part of town."
Historic Places central area co-ordinator David Watt said he learned of the sale yesterday, and "we look forward to making contact to discuss plans for the site which we hope to do very soon".
The hotel was built in 1882 and is Hastings' oldest building. It has been vacant for nearly three years. The hotel sold at mortgagee auction in June for $410,000, but the sale fell over. The land has a council valuation of $900,000.
- The Dominion Post
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