A retail mogul who brought the Topshop label to Australia has been revealed as the mystery buyer of a historic building in Hunter Street mall.
The Newcastle Herald has confirmed Hilton Seskin, a fashion industry veteran and founder of Rebel Sport, is the director of a company that purchased the Municipal building in May.
Mr Seskin is behind the popular chain of Glue Stores nationally and his latest undertaking has been the launch of UK activewear retailer JD Sports in Australia. The flagship store was unveiled in Melbourne in April and at least two more have opened in recent months.
The purchase of the Municipal building had been shrouded in secrecy since it sold for $3.275 million at auction, with agents from Colliers International prevented from releasing the identity of the successful bidder.
When contacted by the Herald on Tuesday, Mr Seskin confirmed he was the new owner but remained coy about his plans for the site.
Newcastle had been on his investment radar for several years and when he saw the “iconic” building was up for sale, he felt the timing was right.
“We obviously believe in Newcastle and we love what’s going on there … the whole city is going to change its face,” Mr Seskin said.
“At this point we’ve just made an investment … we’re deciding what will fit best for the property.”
The purchase of the Municipal building came in the same month as the high profile collapse of Mr Seskin’s Australian Topshop franchise. He blamed the parent company, based in the UK, for the poor performance of the local brand, after the business was placed into voluntary administration with debts totalling $35 million.
But despite acknowledging during a speech in June that the online “click frenzy” had resulted in tough times for Australian retailers, Mr Seskin appears confident that JD Sports will live up to the hype it has generated overseas.
The Municipal building, at 164 Hunter Street, originally formed part of the state government’s masterplan for the mall redevelopment.
But it was later deemed surplus to needs.
It is heritage-listed and a 2015 assessment noted it was associated with prominent architect Peter Bennett and was an interesting example of Edwardian architecture.