It was the day many believed would never come – the first tentative steps towards restoring Newcastle’s heritage jewel, the city’s former post office building, back to its former glory.
On hand was the building’s new owner Jerry Schwartz who recently acquired the building in for $3.5 million.
“I’ve been to this post office so many times, but this is first time I’ve been here since I became the fortunate owner,” he said.
“It feels like the first conquest has been won.
“Now the difficult task of bringing it back to its former grandeur begins.”
Dr Schwartz met with workers who are removing asbestos and other hazardous materials before work starts in the new year on creating an Aboriginal cultural area in the building’s basement.
The building's first floor will be used as a function centre, while the ground floor will feature wedding retail outlets including dress shops, florists and photographers.
Dr Schwartz, who does not plan to turn an immediate profit from the post office venture, said he wanted the restored 1903 building to complement other revitalisation initiatives occurring throughout the city.
“It’s a highly significant building that is important for the history of Newcastle. I think it epitomises the fact that Newcastle is being reinvigorated, just like the rest of Honeysuckle and slowly Hunter Street,” he said.
The commencement of decontamination work marks a significant milestone for the former post office, which has had several owners since it was decommissioned in the late 1990s.
The Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, which acquired the building following a successful 2014 land claim, had initially intended to use it as an Aboriginal medical centre.
The land council was unable to raise the estimated $15 million needed to restore the building to a point where it could be occupied, and listed it for sale in 2016.
Dr Schwartz’s bid was among 11 expressions of interest that were lodged from hospitality and educational organisations.
Land council members agreed to sell the building to Dr Schwartz, who owns three hotels in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, in August.
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council approved the deal last month. The building is due to settle in January.
The land council and the NSW Office of Environment are undertaking the current asbestos removal project.
Dr Schwartz, who also operates two amphibious aircraft at Cessnock Airport, recently became a part owner of Sydney Sea Planes.
He said he hoped the new venture would help create enhanced transport links between Sydney, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.
“The idea is not only to expand the sea planes between Sydney and the Hunter but to open up a scenic sea plane service from the harbour and offer scenic flights to the Hunter Valley,” he said.
“I’m also planning bring a coach service to connect Newcastle Airport with Newcastle and the Hunter.”
Dr Schwartz said his substantial investments were based on his confidence in the region’s future.
“It [Newcastle] is really showing its weight as the second largest city in NSW,” he said. It is also becoming more involved in the financial status of Australia and as the gateway to the Hunter Valley.”