AN exciting new development on the Raymond Terrace riverfront may be the spark that reinvigorates King Street.
Work is under way to transform the neglected Richardson and Scully building in King Street, formerly the Newcastle University Aquatic Centre, into a restaurant and function centre.
“My wife and I have wanted to do this for over 20 years,” new owner Warren Lawrence said.
“We always said the Terrace needs a restaurant on the river.”
The historic building, which is the last river-facing building remaining from King Street's heyday, was sold by Port Stephens Council to Mr Lawrence, also the owner of Ezimetal at Heatherbrae, and wife Fiona late last year.
While restoring an old building was a bucket list item for the Raymond Terrace couple, their aim to breathe new life into the heritage-listed Richardson and Scully building may be the key to bringing people back into King Street.
“We want to bring life back into King Street,” Mr Lawrence said.
“We've been speaking to the council, and with heritage people, about turning it into a restaurant and function centre, to tie it in with the wedding trees and what Jake [Bush] has done with the chocolate shop across the road.”
Port Stephens Council purchased the building from the University of Newcastle in 2003. The university had owned it since 1962, paying 400 pounds for the building, and used it part-time for its rowing club.
In June 2016, after meeting with the Lawrence's and discussing what they wanted to do with the building, the council resolved to sell it to them. The sale was settled in early 2017.
“Council purchased the building for a potential cultural and community focal precinct,” a spokeswoman for the council said.
“After the uni vacated the building, there was no interest for its reuse due to the building's age and condition.
“The building had some structural issues and council sought advice from an engineer and a geotechnical company and structural works were required.
“Additionally there is also the heritage listing to be considered.”
The Richardson and Scully building is not the first piece of town history Mr Lawrence, who was born and raised in Raymond Terrace, had his eye on.
He hoped to purchase and restore the Masonic Lodge, across the way from the building he now owns, but it was sold before he knew it was available.
The buildings were both built in the 1800s, when King Street was the thriving business centre of Raymond Terrace, important mainly because it ran parallel with the Hunter River.
In the past food, produce and other materials could be loaded and off-loaded from the rear of the businesses in King Street.
The Richardson and Scully building, once a riverfront bond store and warehouse, was built in 1867.
For decades it has been boarded up, had rain leaking through gaps in the roof to rot the timber floorboards and served as a home to many birds.
The first point of business when the Lawrence’s were given keys to the building was to enlist the help of their children, Billy and Erin, to clean up the bird poo – all six cubic metres of it.
“We cleared out the equivalent of two full skip bins of pigeon poo,” Mr Lawrence said.
“We need to try and stop the pigeons getting in. A lot of structural work needs to be done. It hasn’t been maintained over the years.”
While the Lawrence’s aim is to turn the upstairs of the building into a restaurant and function area complete with kitchen and veranda, the heritage listing of the building means its appearance will not change dramatically.
The downstairs of the building will serve as a storage area with mobile cool rooms, which will be easy to move if it floods.
The Lawrence’s are working with Paul Clarke and Associates, based in Seaham, to ensure the necessary repairs and refurbishment is carried out to heritage guidelines.
Mr Lawrence estimated the work would take up to two years. No development application has been lodged yet.
The building will be open to the public on May 20 during the King Street festival.