INDIGO Shire Council has batted away questions about its description of old Beechworth gaol’s redevelopment as a “council tourism project”.
The council last week released a job kit for the position of council tourism manager – paying a salary of $120,000 per year – in which the appointee is to have a “key responsibility” to “take a lead role in Indigo Shire Council tourism projects, such as the old Beechworth gaol redevelopment”, according to the recruitment document.
But the 1864-built gaol – one of the most significant heritage properties in the North East – is not a council asset.
After 12 chequered years in the hands of a Melbourne would-be developer, it was bought in November last year by a Precinct Destinations, a privately-owned trustee company of which Beechworth businessman Matt Pfahlert was sole director and shareholder.
Precinct Destinations owns the assets and operates the business of the old gaol for a trust in which a group of Beechworth and North East individuals and families who contributed what is said to be $1.7 million by way of investment own units.
Philanthropic groups such as the Yulgibar Group, associated with the family of investors Sidney ‘Bails’ and Sarah Myer, also supported the purchase.
Some of the philanthropic support included “patient loans”, advanced on long repayment terms, towards the price, raising a total of $2.5m.
The proposed redevelopment and business strategy is being managed by the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship, of which Mr Pfahlert and former Indigo council tourism manager Clayton Neil are directors.
Indigo council chief executive Gerry Smith – in response to questions put to him by the Advertiser on Friday – said it was “very early days with the new council’s priorities, major projects, budget planning etc…”.
Mr Smith said there had been “no council decisions” on the gaol since its sale last year.
The Advertiser asked the CEO to advise how a privately-owned development had become an “Indigo Shire Council tourism project”, as described in the recruitment document.
The paper also asked if the council had other roles or had made contributions to the project.
The string of events has been the subject of some contention, leading to a council move in December to commission a probity audit into the workings of the council’s conflict of interest management processes related to the sale of the gaol and its choice of ACRE as a preferred potential leaseholder of old Beechworth railway station.
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