It is a shell of the industrial icon it once was, but the family that owns the former Wangi power station believes it could be a Lake Macquarie landmark once more.
“My personal vision would be for it to be built into a commercial area, creating jobs for the area,” said Lloyd McDonald. “It could be a similar sort of thing to the Queen Victoria Building [in Sydney].” Mr McDonald said the 22-hectare site could also accommodate residential development.
Lloyd McDonald is continuing the vision of his father, Ian. After buying the site in the late 1990s, the Gold Coast businessman had plans to reuse the main building as part of a $300 million development.
Ian McDonald died in 2014, and the state heritage-listed building that held his dream has been hit by the elements and vandals. Its walls have been defaced with graffiti, and its windows smashed.
On Saturday, a fire was deliberately lit on the third floor. About 60 firefighters responded to the “fairly intense” blaze and contained it to one room, according to Wangi Wangi fire station deputy captain, Glenn Swift.
“It’s disappointing to see events such as this, and it’s an icon of Wangi,” he said.
Inspector Darryn Cox, from NSW Police’s Lake Macquarie local area command, said the old power station had become a regular site for illegal activity, including arson and BASE jumping.
“The people coming to these premises face significant risk to their personal safety due to the dilapidated condition of the site,” he said, adding that they could face charges of trespassing.
Lloyd McDonald said he was “disappointed” people were breaking through the fences and entering the site.
“They show a lack of respect for private property,” Mr McDonald said.
About three million bricks were used in Wangi power station’s construction. The facility was officially opened in 1958 and operated until 1986. For a time, it was the largest power station in NSW.
Independent Member for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper, was torn about the former power station’s future.
“My heart says ‘save it’, it’s a fabulous building,” Mr Piper said. “My head tells me it will probably be demolished. It’s being slowly demolished now by the passage of time, the elements, and there’s vandalism.”
Mr Piper said he didn’t see a role for state funds in preserving the building, as “the costs would be huge, and I don’t think that would be the best use of state money”.
Lloyd McDonald said the family company had received offers for the property but had declined to sell. Mr McDonald said he “can’t see a date” for the development.
“We have an optimistic outlook for the area,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Lake Macquarie City Council said an area plan for the power station precinct, looking at issues for its development, was adopted in February 2016.
“The Wangi power station is a state heritage-listed building with significant historic and sentimental value to the community,” the spokeswoman said.
“Council would like to see it repaired and adaptively reused and has zoned the site to allow a range of uses while maintaining the character and heritage significance of the building.”