Labour of love to renovate Great Northern Hotel

THE Great Northern Hotel, one of Newcastle’s most iconic buildings, is again the subject of a re-development plan that its owner says will begin ‘‘within four to eight weeks’’.

The once opulent hotel is as famous as it is troubled. The upper floors have stood vacant and increasingly derelict for decades, but its current owner, Sydney-based developer Bass Elhashem, says he plans to change that. 

‘‘From our perspective it’s a safe bet,’’ he said. ‘‘There has been a lot of investment in Newcastle from the government and that has given more people a lot more confidence to invest here.’’

‘‘It’s unfortunate in the past that the market hasn’t really supported the redevelopment.’’

Mr Elhashem bought the hotel in 2013 for $2.6million, backed by a group of property investors, he says.

He says he has ‘‘fallen in love’’ with the building.

‘‘That’s not the reason I am investing in it, but if I had to choose between two projects – an old building and a new building, and the cost and the benefit were the same – you’d certainly have more passion to restore a beautiful building like the Great Northern.’’

But Mr Elhashem is not the first to fall under the hotel’s spell. For decades the Scott Street address has seduced ambitious developers who dreamt of restoring the art deco landmark to its former grandeur.

Mr Elhashem and his partners bought the building off fellow Sydney-based property mogul Kurt Braune. And their redevelopment plan, to restore the hotel’s former decor, mimics his.

Mr Braune had said in 2010 that he planned to invest more than $10million to return the Great Northern to the status of being ‘‘one of the best hotels in Australia’’.

But Mr Braune sold the property in 2013 when his business Crown Management was placed in the hands of administrators.

Nick Gerakiteys co-owned the hotel with his brother between 1977 and 1988. They planned to renovate but, according to Mr Gerakiteys, were frustrated by the heritage-listed building’s planning constraints.

‘‘It just wasn’t feasible, even back then,’’ he said.

‘‘We had Heritage and the council fighting each other – one would say ‘do this’ then the other would say ‘no you can’t do that’.’’

‘‘The lights, the stairs, the elevators, none of them complied with council’s rules, then Heritage would say you can’t change any of those things.’’

He warned any prospective developer against ‘‘throwing money down the drain’’.

‘‘Whoever is doing it would want to have very deep pockets,’’ he said.

But that has not discouraged Mr Elhashem, also managing director of an ICT firm, who believes the timing is right.