Empire Hotel site is city's den of shame

SYRINGE CITY: The Empire Hotel site in Newcastle.
SYRINGE CITY: The Empire Hotel site in Newcastle.

NEWCASTLE'S Empire Hotel site has been turned into an illegal shooting gallery for drug addicts.

Hundreds of used syringes, spoons and discarded sharps boxes litter the derelict buildings only a stone's throw from the city's methadone clinic.

Surrounding business owners told The Herald scores of drug users and prostitutes could be seen entering the site at all times of the day and night.

One user said the site was known as the inner-city's "one-stop shop" for drugs.

He said dealers regularly gathered near Hunter New England Health's methadone clinic, in the community health centre in Hunter Street, to sell heroin and amphetamines.

Users then walked across the road to the Empire Hotel site, on the corner of Hunter and Steel streets, to shoot up.

The user described the derelict site as the city's "most convenient" place to use drugs, because there was no shortage of "suppliers in the area".

The 2080-square-metre site includes the old Empire Hotel on Hunter Street and a former boxing gym next door.

Vacant for more than six years, the site is not secured and is strewn with rubbish and drug paraphernalia.

At one stage it was proposed for a 15-level apartment and retail complex.

Hunter New England Health's drug and alcohol clinical services area director Adrian Dunlop said staff contacted police if they suspected people were dealing drugs outside the clinic.

Dr Dunlop encouraged members of the community to do the same and said methadone was given orally to patients at the clinic and they were not permitted to take the drug from the premises.

"Methadone is a widely used and approved . . . treatment and patients on the methadone program are actively trying to stop illicit drug use, typically heroin," he said.

"Methadone is effective in retaining patients in treatment to promote health, reduce fatal overdose and reduce crime."

Newcastle Alliance chairman Paul Murphy described the old Empire Hotel site as an "absolute disgrace" and said it was about time Newcastle City Council and the State Government did something about it.

Mr Murphy said it would be far better to demolish the building and leave the site a vacant block.

Newcastle City Council's environmental health co-ordinator Paul McMurray said the council had gone to great lengths to get the site cleaned up and had pursued action through several courts.

Mr McMurray said the council was successful in April last year in getting the former owner, Obsidian Holdings, wound up and a receiver appointed.

Sydney firm Grant Thornton was appointed as receiver last year.

Grant Thornton's head of recovery Paul Billingham told The Herald there was "no money" for a clean-up but that he had instructed contractors to secure the site immediately in an effort to fence people out.