Back in August, we asked the question: What on earth is happening with Wagga’s iconic Murrumbidgee Mill?
Despite the ill-fated project being mired in a legal wrangle between Australian-based developers and Chinese investors, we heard rumblings that things would soon get moving and there were rumours of an imminent sale.
Sure enough, we learned last week that brokerage firm HTL Property would be taking expressions of interest over the next month on a “substantially commenced hotel development site within the historic Murrumbidgee Flour Mill”.
“The Flour Mill Hotel is a rare opportunity to acquire the historic Murrumbidgee Flour Mill site, which is DA approved for a 142-room hotel with extensive complementary facilities,” the media release read, adding that the “motivated” sellers had already poured $12 million into the floundering development.
“The current owners have completed substantial engineering and construction works thus far, providing an incoming purchaser a shovel-ready development opportunity.”
The hotel is listed as the key selling point within the 15,360 sqm land parcel.
“Limited options exist in this tightly held market to acquire accommodation, and therefore development sites with scale such as this one are a very credible option,” said HTL Property director Nic Simarro.
IHG Hotels and Resorts is the company behind the stalled plans for the Wagga Wagga Holiday Inn, and Australasia & Pacific Managing Director Matt Tripolone told Region that nothing has changed from their perspective.
“We still have a management agreement in place with the current owner, which would remain even in the event of a sale,” he said.
“The project is currently on hold, and we would look forward to discussions with any new property owner on revised timelines.”
Region understands that an offer of $8m for the site was rejected and HTL has indicated that the expression-of-interest sale process will be open until 7 December.
“We are presenting a heavily discounted opportunity on behalf of clients who are motivated to meet the market and exit the development entirely,” said HTL Property director James Carrick.
”Motivated” is perhaps an understatement after four years of litigation and allegations of fraud against developers Interlink Wagga Central Pty Ltd (IWC).
IWC’s husband-and-wife team Yu Xiao and Yanying Chen were backed to the tune of $US34m by Chinese investment giant Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) to oversee both the Mill and a private hospital development on the Gold Coast.
In 2019, BCEG China launched a civil action against the Australian-based couple, alleging they had diverted millions of dollars into a private West Wyalong shopping centre development.
False invoices and multiple associated companies helped to shuffle the money between the projects and last year, Xiao and Chen were found to have breached their fiduciary duties.
They were found liable to repay more than $US12m, including $3.4m that had been diverted to West Wyalong and $8.24m that had been advanced to keep the Wagga Mill project moving, plus compensation for losses and interest.
And so it is that we find ourselves with a fire sale on one of Wagga’s most iconic landmarks.
Over the past few decades, we have seen artists’ renderings of a vibrant residential and commercial precinct with apartments, a supermarket, restaurants, bars, a brewery and, of course, the towering hotel.
The location continues to attract strong interest on the residential front, with a healthy seven properties within the Mill Residence complex selling so far this year.
On the commercial front, business was described by one local realtor as “dead”, without so much as a nibble since the last remaining restaurants closed before the pandemic.
Will the site ever deliver on its promise and transform from an abandoned eyesore to a Riverina icon? We can only hope.
In the meantime, if you’ve got a few ”mil” to invest, why not make an offer?