THE new owner of 1.66 hectares of prime real estate in the Hunter Street mall says he’s fallen in love with “the Newcastle story”, and wants to turn his East End patch into an “active village” and “community meeting place”.
After the Newcastle Herald revealed UrbanGrowth and GPT had sold the mall to Sydney-based hotelier and developer Iris Capital, the company’s chief executive Sam Arnaout was in town on Thursday to officially announce the deal.
Already the owner of two major Hunter Valley properties – including the 48-hectare Sweetwater estate, a sprawling Mediterranean-style mansion in Pokolbin – Mr Arnaout said it was a “logical progression” to enter the market in Newcastle.
“I really have fallen in love with the Newcastle story,” he told the Herald on Thursday.
“The beautiful location, the whole relaxed lifestyle; where else in the world can you have a house or apartment one block from the harbour, and three blocks from the beach? You can’t.
“It’s the equivalent of moving Darling Harbour to Bondi Beach … I’m a real believer in Newcastle.”
Iris has just signed on the dotted line to take over the buildings, and Mr Arnaout said a more detailed look at what the company wanted to do in the mall would come when development plans were lodged “very early in the new year”. But he said the company’s vision would “work harmoniously with the heritage values that are already here on the site”.
“When I came here, I looked at the East End as the East End, and I want to create something that fits the Newcastle lifestyle,” he said.
“The idea here is literally looking to build something the locals can be proud of.”
The redevelopment of the mall is likely to be split into a number of stages, with the former David Jones building the first cab off the rank.
Mr Arnaout said the “jury was still out” on the overall design, but he envisioned “certainly a level of residential within the building [and] I see the ground floor being an activated retail use … potentially a sort of bespoke deli, market type concept”.
“I see this street becoming a boulevard where people will eat, shop, and play,” he said. “This precinct will be about building a daytime and nighttime economy with a sustainable, liveable atmosphere at its base.”
Iris Capital owns a number of Sydney hotels including the Clovelly Hotel, and Mr Arnaout said he would “definitely investigate” the idea of opening “a boutique hotel” as part of the overall development.
Mr Arnaout said he had been “impressed” by government infrastructure investments in the city, including the Baird government light rail project, and the university’s city campus.
“This is a city on the move,” he said.