Local, Opinion/Comment

An open letter to Councillors about Gordon Street from a certified valuer.

To all Councillors

As a ratepayer born in this town, I am writing to implore you to vote for the rescission motion to enable further reflection and consultation on this matter of the most financially significant capital works project ever contemplated by this Council namely the “Cultural and Civic Space” building proposed for Gordon Street.

By Peter Strickland

The consultation process has been “paper thin” and the public meeting held recently at the Jordan Centre” should stand as a clarion “wakeup” call.

“Current Chambers not a rabbit warren and has enginering capacity for an extra floor” – Peter Strickland, Valuer

The irony that a “town hall” meeting has to be called in an inadequately sized or located building should not be lost on the Council. This coupled
with the fact that there appears to be the outward appearance that Council has an overly cosy relationship with Coffs Ex-Services Club something which seems apparent to the majority of the populace such that Council tacitly approves of the Ex-Services Club seeking grant funding to build an entertainment venue.

If this abrogation of social responsibility comes to fruition I am quite sure such a venue would not be made available for eisteddfods, school socials, rehearsals, school concerts or public meetings gratis or on a cost-recovery only basis but would, in all likelihood, only be available for an unsubsidized
commercial cost.

This Council should be seeking Grant funding for Entertainment/Arts not a
commercial enterprise like the Ex-services Club which was “gifted” a whole city block in return for scrubland the Club owned along Hogbin Drive to facilitate Council enticing Southern Cross University to town.

I have intimate knowledge of that land-swap deal as I worked for Coffs Harbour City Council in the Property Department for 13 years from 1980 to 1993 initially housed in the red brick clock tower building adjacent to the Civic Centre before moving to the new Council Chambers.

I can attest that there are many mistruths being perpetuated about the current Council chambers and the current excuse being promulgated is that it is a “rabbit warren” so, therefore, needs to be sold and smaller
admin accommodation being built in the new edifice proposed in Gordon street.

The fact is that subsequent administrations (i.e. new General Manager/Mayor combinations) resolved to partition out what was originally a substantially open-plan building with perimeter offices which took up space.

Instead of undertaking the most cost-effective solution of adding an extra floor to the current council chambers every new Mayor/GM combo either proposed “band-aid” solutions or approved the buying up of nearby commercial buildings.

If you look at the current administration building today it already has the
reinforced concrete floor for the second story in place (the painted grey “collar” at the top of the building) and at the time bricks were purchased for the second storey (some were still in store at the depot). This left only the cost of windows and roof to have achieved a “lock-up” stage the second
floor having an area of the total building footprint at an absolute minimal cost with only fit-out costs to be the significant funding to be obtained.

Further, the City Hill Project (pictured below) has fully worked architectural plans showing a staged construction that was drawn up by the State Government Architect over a period of around five years, It started out with various conceptual drawing and then refined down to a preferred building of suitable prominence to be constructed of mass concrete.

Proposed City Hill plans published in 2010

This process was exhaustive to the extent of going from concept to a fully worked plan including the associated engineering plans. It was “build-ready’.

It proposed a civic building of majestic grandeur and of low maintenance cost that would become of State significance and possible of earning heritages listing, in time, like the Sydney Opera House.

As a property valuer of 35 five years’ experience in the Mid North Coast Property Market I call into question the validity of the Savilles valuation report (a Sydney/Brisbane Firm) which purportedly ascribes a value of $20 Million for the current Council properties.

The valuation report AND the instructions for the valuation (which would show the critical assumptions the valuer was required to make) should be made public documents for all to see and judge.

There simply is not enough market evidence to support that valuation figure in my opinion!

The mere fact that Council cannot lease out the top floor of Rigby House is clear proof that the is an overabundance of office space available for rent as no investor would pay the price tag of $20 Million knowing there is a surplus of office accommodation already in this town.

If Council still insist in pursuing the sale of the current administration building at its asking price the selling period would be at least 2 years and the 3% sales commission would see $600,000 of the imagined $20 million going to the selling agent!

It is time Council had a fulsome Public Consultation on this matter, unlike the “sham” public consultations we have seen happen with the likes of the Jetty Foreshore redevelopment and the Diggers Beach Amenities project.

Both of these in my opinion had all the hallmarks of Council just “ticking the boxes” and, dare I say, stacking the submissions to counter any adverse commentary on projects that Council were “hell-bent” on delivering despite public concerns.

Yours faithfully,


Peter Strickland, GCert Prop, AssocDipBus(Val). AAPI
Certified Practicing Valuer

17 Comments

  1. If this doesn’t put the mayor and her general manager in a box, I don’t know what will. The good ship Knightanic is about to set sale.

  2. Gloria Voglsinger

    And where are these City Hill plans now???
    Well hidden it seems.
    I don’t recall them being on display.
    Did the government architect charge CHCC a fee?
    I NOTE THEY WERE COMPLETED IN 2010.
    Isn’t that the year Denise Knight thought City Hill was the perfect choice for our Performing Arts and Culture Centre???
    Again we ask “what or who persuaded her to change her mind?”
    THE PLOT THICKENS.

    I must say it so gratifying to hear some truths. Thank you Mr Strickland for this information. I just hope our Councillors take the time to absorb it.

  3. Thank you so much, Mr Strickland for supporting the call for the Valuation and the critical assumptions upon which the valuer relied to be made public. I agree wholeheartedly with the content of your letter and very much appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge. The most sensible course for the consolidation of Council operations is, as per the original plan, redevelopment of the building at the corner of Coff & Castle Streets.
    Janne C Lindrum

  4. Thank you for a sensible and factual assessment of this current situation. I agree there seems to be an overly cosy relationship,between CEX and the Council, to the ratepayers’ detriment. The Old Council Chambers and Civic Centre were lovely buildings and the town is poorer for their loss.

  5. Janice Butler

    It is strange that all of these extremely pertinent letters from the people who “know” have now been published. Almost and I say almost !! after the horse has bolted. Thank goodness they have put pen to paper and spoken out.
    Peter Strickland, your assessment and knowledge on the whole situation is well worth your time and effort. Thank you.

  6. Thank you Peter for your really informative information that you are sharing with the community, very interesting

  7. Gai Anderson

    Absolutely (bloody – to coin the great Aussie vernacular) excellent- Peter has made my day. 🙂

    I am in the midst of lodging an online email form with the Minister for Local Government, and will then move on to sending same to the Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government …….

    I am going to try to contact Peter, directly, to see if he minds me attaching his letter. If I can’t get hold of him I will advise that his letter exists, and suggest the Minister’s and Chief Executive’s offices to contact me so I can pass on to Peter that they would like to hear from him.

    Once again thank many thanks to Peter sooooo much for chipping in with the knowledge held.

    If you know whether the comment I heard someone at the public meeting say is correct – that being that the current admin/Council Chambers can take two more floors – could you please clarify that too?

    Also ….. i am a little confused with you talking about a second floor yet to be constructed – I assume you mean a third floor? ….. Or perhaps your naming of the floors in place are:
    (basement for parking),
    Ground (lobby, customer service and Council chambers),
    and First floor.

    As most people are calling the floor that could be added a “third” floor could you clarify on this please?

    And finally….have you also sent this to all the Councillors, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, General Manager and the Coffs Coast Advocate?

    Kindest regards
    Gai

  8. Max Brinsmead

    Some questions for our elected councillors to consider before this Thursday’s meeting:

    1. This is a very divisive issue for the community. Can’t we just pause this for a bit and allow the dust to settle?
    Above all, what we need is more time and information in order to examine all the options.

    2. If you are worried about the loss of trees and koala habitat if City Hill is developed then
    consider the following:
     Architects could be charged with building a staged development with an innovative
    design that would require the absolute minimum of disturbance to the natural
    environment. Indeed, for every tree that had to be removed, council could resolve to
    plant one, three or six more trees to replace those losses? Indeed, why not start now?
    Coffs is not doing as much as some other regional urban environments in tree planting.
     Are there koalas on City Hill? If they are, then this is not a very safe place for them to
    be.
    3. Why not challenge our newly minted members in the Federal and State parliaments to gather in some state and federal grants for a staged cultural development i.e. art gallery, library, museum and performing arts centre? This will only be possible if we jettison the council chambers add on? Do they really need it? Do we need that more than we need cultural facilities?

    4. Is it the best use of ratepayer’s funds to attempt to “revitalize the CBD”. Surely that should
    be a matter for commerce?

  9. I consider this a “must read” for anyone interested in sorting out fact and fiction-
    http://g2architects.com.au/news/2019/7/23/myth-busting-the-cultural-and-civic-space

  10. KL, some of that publication was debunked yesterday on Facebook. It was “CBD centric” and not beneficial to the wider LGA. Have a look at my comments.

    The only people speaking publicly in favour of new council building are those with vested interests, links to CBD property or their owners, providers of services to CBD property owners or council, those occupying the relevant spaces or paid consultants.

    If facts are what you seek, I suggest you read all the comments on”Outlook” that expose breaches of procedure or conduct and lay bear the significant opportunities of the City Hill option (particularly Janne Lindrum’s points).

    I am more than happy to debate the financial feasibility.

    Cheers Chris

  11. Sue Hancock

    Well done. We smell a rat over the relationship of CEX with the Coffs City Council. The people of Coffs represent a less than overly wealthy set of ratepayers who would like to have some money available for future projects. Foremost in our minds is an entertainment centre. This building would not provide that nor would it provide parking for the proposed $76 million monstrosity. Next to be lost to the city would be Fitzroy Oval, as the parking would be disastrous.

  12. The comments by Chris Bramley (see above) are spot on. The author (O Gee) had a pecuniary interest in the outcome, which to his credit he disclosed. Yet there are other factors not taken into account.

    Globally, in the world of finance, certain factors bear a striking resemblance to conditions immediately prior to the Global Financial Crisis – price of gold and the share price index. This may not be the time to borrow large sums of money even if the interest rate is very low. And it also means any potential buyer of the assets going up for sale might be impacted by such global conditions. The expected realisation figures would probably not result if council went ahead.
    A more prudent action would be to tread water, there is no urgency to push ahead, so perhaps council (entrusted with resident’s money- it does not belong to Council) should wait to see what happens.

    • Craig McGregor

      try selling assets first at valuation amounts (then proceed on leaseback options) during construction 🤔😳…..I cant imagine there are developers / investors lining the street to purchase these highly sought assets….🤩 also “because you CAN borrow doesn’t always mean that you SHOULD”.
      Location -current backstreet not ideal. Main Street Brelsford Park for me, including entertainment/performance. (Within 400m adequate car parking)
      And what’s with CEX state govt submission. Is it for DA Approval or Govt Grant (the communities money)?

  13. Well written Peter Strickland. Thankyou for this Open Letter.

    I hope That ICAC will become involved it as this Council needs to be Audited It has a very very very questionable history …as so many of the Coffs Harbour born & bred population no !!!

    Max

  14. What a great informed and factual letter. Thank you Peter

  15. Barry Giddins

    The pro-development group must realise by now that this issue is too controversial to be determined at the whim of one person during a vote of the rescission motion currently before council. This proposal should be taken to the next council elections and if pro-development councilors get re-elected and have decent majority – so be it.

  16. Rodger Pryce

    Having been involved in the property industry in Coffs for 40 years and having recently been involved in the development and sale of the Coles development, opposite Brelsford Park, I have a couple of observations.
    Firstly, I do not believe that the available office space in the CBD, has EVER been fully let.
    Secondly, if the Councillors and Council officers are suggesting that they will market and sell the existing properties, whilst the new building is being constructed, and then vacate, leaving the new owners with untenanted investments, such ‘purchasers’ quite simply, don’t exist.
    Thirdly, if there is a thought that the market will pay a total of $20m for untenanted office buildings in Coffs Harbour, if the suggestion is they market the properties once they vacate, then to believe that this is possible, would suggest that those who are holding the reins, have no experience in the property industry. And I guess therein lies the truth!
    Property has no fixed value, it is worth only what someone is prepared to pay. Valuers representing opposing parties over property disputes come up with huge differences , depending who wants the figure high and who wants the figure low.
    $20m for those properties with either short leases or vacant, really??

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