NSW government looks for Newcastle station private operator

Newcastle train station should help restore nightlife to the east end but will remain in public hands, according to Hunter Development Corporation (HDC).

HDC chief executive Michael Cassel told the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday that the historic station should operate 16 hours a day to reinvigorate Newcastle East’s night-time economy.

“This end of town is not active at night,” he said.

“There’s another 500 apartments to go in on the Mall site. When you start driving all of that you need a bit more space. You can’t have everyone just crammed into one location.

“I would hope that this is somewhere you can come as a young person, you can come as a young family, you can come as an old family and there’s something on offer for you.”

HDC’s Revitalising Newcastle program has called for expressions of interest from operators to lease and manage the historic station for an 18-month trial period from April next year.

Potential tenants include restaurants, cafes, shops and an arts space, and the plaza could be used for concerts, food festivals or as an outdoor cinema, subject to development application approval.

Mr Cassel said HDC would retain ownership of the station, as it had done at Honeysuckle with heritage buildings which house the Honeysuckle Hotel, Wine Selectors, the Forum gym and maritime museum.

The successful tenderer for the station will manage six tenancy areas and a 3000 square metre plaza when the station reopens in April after restoration work on its buildings and platforms.

The buildings, which date back to 1878, have not been used since the last train left the station on Christmas day in 2014 and are listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Mr Cassel, whose parents caught the train to Newcastle for their honeymoon, said HDC would spend a “significant amount of money” refurbishing the station buildings inside and the out.

He said the station’s heritage was the key to its appeal.

“We don’t build things like this any more. It has an authentic story,” he said.

Contractors have filled in the space between the station’s platforms to create the plaza and will remove non-original brickwork to restore access to Scott Street by the end of the year.

The Herald reported last month that the station and part of the rail corridor would house race teams during the Newcastle 500 Supercars weekend in late November.

Mr Cassel described the initial 18-month lease as a pilot to gauge what did and did not work at the station while HDC continued to work on restoring and the station buildings.

“We’re saying to the business community and the not-for-profit community, ‘Come and tell us what you think you can do with this space.’

“From that we’ll marry it up with a whole bunch of criteria we worked through with the community.

“It does take a lot of money to keep something like this pristine, so we’ve said we need to generate some kind of commercial return.

“That first 18 months will be about trialling a few things. Are people enjoying coming here? Are we generating revenue to maintain into the future? Also, are the events working?

“We want to understand that the person we eventually go with in the next round has the skills to deliver on those place-making activities.

“The EOI is about us saying we want something to happen quickly. We can’t quite put our exact finger on what it is now.

“And we want some time to fit all of this out. We got the infills done because we saw it as a good opportunity for Supercars to come in and utilise the area as well.