Ipswich Central Redevelopment Committee chair and councillor Marnie Doyle inside the restored Commonwealth Hotel.
Ipswich Central Redevelopment Committee chair and councillor Marnie Doyle inside the restored Commonwealth Hotel.

First look inside CBD pub restoration

WORKS to restore an 111-year-old pub in the Ipswich CBD have been completed but the focus has now turned to what will fill the historic building.

An extension to the Commonwealth Hotel could be on the cards to accommodate a hotelier once again with the current footprint deemed too small to make a modern operation viable.

The building, also known as Murphy’s Town Pub, was bought by council-controlled entity Ipswich City Properties in 2014 and was identified as unsafe for occupancy in 2015.

The Commonwealth Hotel in the Ipswich CBD.
The Commonwealth Hotel in the Ipswich CBD.

Division 3 councillor and Ipswich Central Redevelopment Committee chair Marnie Doyle said so far about $6.2 million had been spent by the council on the restoration.

“It has been painstakingly removed piece by piece and stored off-site so that some foundation works could occur here because the building was sinking,” she said.

“It had effectively cracked in half.

“Piece by piece it was taken down and meticulously documented.

“Once the foundations were completed it was brought back in piece by piece and we’ve had tradespeople on site working around the clock.”

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The former banking and finance lawyer said a significant amount of the millions sunk into the project was spent just ensuring it was safe for use.

“There is really good argument that I think about $4 million of it has been spent on pulling down, taking off site and then restoring it,” she said.

“As far as any capital investment by council in getting it to a point of being ready for the market and attracting a good tenant, (the $4 million) should probably be excluded from that because when the building was purchased money has always needed to be spent upfront on saving it (and) restoring it so we’ve done that.

The second level of the hotel.
The second level of the hotel.

“The previous council was criticised for not going into the detail and getting themselves into trouble. We had an important role in seeing this one restored.

“This council, it’s unprecedented the level of detail that we’re asking for from council officers.”

Cr Doyle has fond memories of the live music venue overflowing with people and she said she was glad it had been restored to its “former glory” within the Nicholas St Precinct.

She has worked closely alongside heritage adviser Danny Keenan and external architect Peter Johnston to get it to this point.

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About 800 council staff will start moving into the modern new administration building behind the old pub this month.

“I like to think it tells a story and shapes where we’re going,” she said.

“It needs to be a very sympathetic, respectful blend of old and new.”

A report to members of the council’s Ipswich Central Redevelopment Committee recommends an extension to the hotel go ahead, subject to a long-term lease being agreed with a prospective tenant.

Ground floor of the hotel.
Ground floor of the hotel.

This would cost the council an extra $5 million with funding to come from next year’s budget.

Councillors will discuss the latest move at Thursday’s meeting.

“The retail leasing team has been in contact with a number of hotel operators in the past year to test their interest in the site’s future operation as an inner-city hotel,” project manager Greg Thomas wrote.

“Feedback from several prospective tenants confirmed that the base building as it now exists, was not of sufficient size to allow for a contemporary hotel operation and that the offering needs to be larger to accommodate the facilities and uses which are more akin to contemporary, significantly sized, inner-city pub/hotel offering.

“A leased and larger format Commonwealth Hotel will complement the tenant mix within the precinct and specifically Metro B, the food and beverage asset directly opposite on Union Place.

An extension to the rear of the building could be on the cards.
An extension to the rear of the building could be on the cards.

“Together they will drive extended dwell time and sales throughout the day while also reinvigorating the CBD’s night-time economy.”

The report notes negotiations are now “well advanced” with a prospective tenant for a long-term lease, subject to an 813 sqm extension to the rear of the site being constructed.

The incoming tenant would need to complete fit-out works themselves.

“The current extension proposal features areas for undercover dining/entertainment and the utilisation of part of the former car park,” Mr Thomas wrote.

“The prospective tenant is also seeking a licence over what will be the residual of the ‘Bell Street Green’ for use as a car park for client parking (up to 44 cars) with access from Bell Street.

“The goal is for the refurbished Commonwealth Hotel to open at Easter 2022 to align with the proposed opening of the adjacent Metro B food and beverage tenancies.”

The ground floor of the pub.
The ground floor of the pub.

Cr Doyle said the council was in a “unique” position of being advised by the state government’s central financing authority the Queensland Treasury Corporation.

Using the building to house something other than a hotel, such as an accounting or architecture firm, had been considered.

“They’ve had a number of analysts here immersed in our business at council,” she said.

“(It’s) never before been seen here at council.

“They’re doing the modelling for us what this could look like if we bring in a tenant to occupy the existing footprint, what those prospective tenants are likely to be and the type of return we could expect for this existing footprint.

The 111-year-old Commonwealth Hotel, also known as Murphy's Town Pub.
The 111-year-old Commonwealth Hotel, also known as Murphy's Town Pub.

“They’re also modelling opportunities to extend the footprint so potentially an extension out the back to incorporate a beer garden and if that might then attract potentially a large hotelier.

“The returns will be far greater from a large hotelier. We’re looking at all the numbers.”

While the retail brands in talks with the council to set up shop in the CBD cannot be revealed yet due to commercial in confidence, Cr Doyle said she was “ecstatic” about the prospective tenants.

“I know Ipswich residents will be really satisfied with what will be on offer here,” she said.

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