Councillor Sue Brooks tours the Arkarra Gardens on World Wetlands Day in 2007 with John Curd, John Knight, Dell Curd, Sandra Turner and Alan Peebles.
Councillor Sue Brooks tours the Arkarra Gardens on World Wetlands Day in 2007 with John Curd, John Knight, Dell Curd, Sandra Turner and Alan Peebles.

Brooks keen to buy Arkarra Gardens

A COUNCILLOR on record as voting against development applications from the former owners of Hervey Bay’s iconic Arkarra Tea Gardens now wants to buy the run-down site to operate it as a private business with her partner.

“Graham (Wilkes) and I tried to buy the gardens nearly a year ago and our offer, which was less than what the property was listed for, was accepted,” councillor Sue Brooks said.

“But then the mortgagee withdrew – after we’d spent quite a lot of money on legal and financial advice.”

The tea gardens are currently listed with Elders in Hervey Bay for $460,000.

This week Ms Brooks, who heads the council’s environmental sustainability portfolio, said she and Mr Wilkes “would certainly still be keen to purchase the tea gardens, which are adjacent to the council lagoons – at the right price”.

“It’s a tragedy it’s been let go.”

A former owner of the tea gardens, potential buyers and tenants and real estate professionals have told the Chronicle that the biggest stumbling block to buying the site and re-starting the business had been the Fraser Coast council.

“I had a deal with the mortgagee in Sydney that I would be able to lease the property and run it again as a tea garden,” a southern investor said yesterday.

“But I hit so many brick walls with the council over their wanting me to put in extra parking, sewerage and so on, the cost became prohibitive.

“It’s a crying shame because the region needs and deserves those tea gardens.”

Elders principal Greg Berghoffer said he had had “plenty of inquiries and even offers” but that the Sydney-based mortgagees wanted a suitable cash contract.

Ms Brooks said that as a councillor she had “the advantage, or some might think it a disadvantage, of being aware of the constraints to get development approval from the council”.

“It is distressing how much the gardens have gone into disrepair. A lot of work needs to be done and we’d be buying a business with no figures and no goodwill because it hasn’t operated for two years.”

The Chronicle has learned that the owners received a $600,000 offer on the site “way back but the buyers were frightened away by the council”.

Arkarra Tea Gardens sits on 7045m2 of freehold land eight minutes from Hervey Bay’s CBD. It is next to the council-owned wildlife lagoons.

In 1997 Bill and Nola Stocks got approval from Hervey Bay City Council to build the original gardens.

In mid-2003, the Stocks sold the property to southern investors and two years later Lloyd Worland and Pat Cowley bought the site. By the time they’d battled the council through their development approvals the business went into receivership.

Elaine Mills, a Dundowran resident who tried late last year to put together a community trust to buy the site, said then she’d calculated the trust needed $1.3 million to seal the deal – the extra dollars to cover the council’s requirements in infrastructure, demolishing, parking and sewerage – and back rates.

Ms Brooks said she and Mr Wilkes would sell Mind Games at Centro, which they have owned for five years.

“Graham needs a change, Arkarra is close to our home so we could walk to work and I have a real love and care for looking after natural habitats like this one.”



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