Roller-coaster week

It’s been a roller-coaster week here in Hastings.

Since handing over the pier project to Hastings Pier Charity, the White Rock Trust has been focusing on the wider neighbourhood and on the second most challenging building in town – the old Observer Building.

 

We found out a week ago that the Observer Building was to go to auction this Friday (today!) and we have been trying to negotiate a private purchase in advance of that.

Last week we asked the receiver what it would cost to take it out of auction and on Monday we matched that offer, including a 10% deposit within 3 days. They came back and said they wanted 20% deposit – we managed to raise that as a gift from Jericho Road Solutions and Meanwhile Space CIC (who are buying Rothermere House next door).  If they had accepted this we would have to raise the rest of the money by September. If we failed, the gift from Jericho Road and Meanwhile Space would be lost. We had talked to funders and lenders to make sure there was a chance they could make the decision in time.

We thought we might have really good news on Monday night, but it was hanging in the balance. And then again on Wednesday afternoon things were looking up when we could have been in a position to bid up to £350k at auction. But when we checked the auction site it said ‘SOLD PRIOR’. We have been working flat out, but I’m sad to report that the Observer Building was sold to a private buyer for £320,000 prior to the auction.

Of course, a genuine fairy godmother might have arrived in town… it’s just not that likely.

The Observer Building has been empty for 30
years. It’s had 12 owners and as many planning permissions. The last owner is in prison for money-laundering; the bank lent too much money on it; the receiver is waiting for his fee. Last year it went through auction again and a new ‘owner’ emerged, only to disappear (losing his deposit) when it became clear how much work needs doing.

Just like the pier, there are no commercial-only solutions. It needs grant to make it commercially viable, and that means community ownership, or at least real community involvement. And as with the pier, the White Rock Trust will not give up. Didn’t we win an award for ‘dogged persistence’?!

I want to thank everyone who has been working so hard this week – especially Keith Sadler, Mark Curry, Ed Lofts, Ray Chapman, Laura Gales, Fiona Ambrose, Lorna Lloyd, and Ronan Larvor, as well as Jeremy Birch and Hastings Borough Council for their support. And also apologise to everyone at Steve Wyler’s leaving do who asked how I was and got the whole story as a rant! It’s not over, and you will all be needed again! We look forward to meeting the buyer, who is expected to complete the purchase within 20 business days.

 

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9 Responses to Roller-coaster week

  1. jimbreeds says:

    Such bad luck not to cross the line with this, but well done for trying
    Let’s hope the new(est) owner does good things with the building.

  2. well lets hope the new owner has very deep pockets as this building transformed will make a real difference to the town. i slightly disagree that there are no commercial only soloutions and I hope that one can be found here.

  3. The PC Bloke says:

    “It’s had 12 owners and as many planning permissions. The last owner is in prison for money-laundering; the bank lent too much money on it; the receiver is waiting for his fee. Last year it went through auction again and a new ‘owner’ emerged, only to disappear (losing his deposit) when it became clear how much work needs doing.”

    Which offers a glimmer of hope, I feel. Is there a community based plan for the building, be very interested to see what that looks like?

    • jesssteele says:

      @ThePCBloke The plan was for both Rothermere House and the Observer. We’re still very much getting on with the Rothermere House bit. White Rock Trust property group meets this week and will decide on the strategy for the next steps.

  4. Roger Rabbit says:

    why no just flatten it. lets be honest Its an awful looking building. Knock it down and start again.

    • jesssteele says:

      @RogerRabbit I don’t agree – I think it’s a lovely building – seven strong factory-style floors with windows on 3 sides, a fantastic double-height space opening onto the Alleyway behind, and an attractive facade that helps tell the history of newspaper journalism (alongside the 1870
      Printworks behind and the 1969 offices next door). It would be very difficult to knock down a) because it’s strong b) because it’s built into the cliff over loads of caves and tunnels and c) because it’s attached to various buildings including Rothermere House!

    • jimbreeds says:

      I also disagree that it is awful looking. Imagine it fully restored, and cleaned up. It will be iconic. Let’s just hope that the restoration and conversion into whatever it becomes will be sympathetic. Surely it is listed Jess?

  5. jesssteele says:

    Unfortunately not listed. We should ask English Heritage to consider spot-listing. I have not had any time to do this. There’s an online form here: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/protection/process/online-application-form/. Would anyone be willing to prepare an application?

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