It was meant to 'herald in a new era for Medowie', but more than six months after construction of the $6.6 million ratepayer-funded Medowie Sports and Community Club was completed, the facility remains off limits behind a security fence and locked gates.
And while the coronavirus pandemic has stalled the Port council's negotiations in the search for an operator, a potentially new partner has emerged leading deputy mayor Chris Doohan to declare this week that "I am confident that we may have just kicked a goal".
In February this year Port Stephens councillors agreed to keep the liquor licence in council's hands, while the search for an operator of the facility was launched. In hindsight, had the club opened pre-Covid the results would have been adverse, but the fact the building remains unoccupied has people concerned.
Cr Giacomo Arnott summed up the feeling of many in the community when he stated: "I'm hopeful that we will find a tenant soon, questions remain that the public deserves answers on."
"Who is paying for it at the moment? What is the cost to ratepayers to be looking after this building with no tenant for so many months?"
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Cr Doohan said that he hoped the community could understand the delays, and "I trust that their anticipation and expectations are not only met, but exceeded, when our club opens".
"The ability to find a quality operator with the appropriate credentials has been a long and frustrating journey. With the incredibly early completion of the construction phase (six months ahead of schedule) calls went out to find an operator.
"Negotiations were in full swing with four interested parties prior to COVID when all potential parties went quiet."
Cr Doohan said that as late as last Friday, a potential operator had come to the fore and met with the council.
"This was an extremely positive engagement ... there will be some intense discussions and negotiations in the coming weeks, and I have a vibe that there will be a great outcome from this," he said.
"Assuming it is favourable, there would be some time required for the operator to fit out the building, lead time for furniture, stock the shelves, get user agreements in place, recruiting and training of staff, etc."
Cr Doohan said that the club committee was also looking at initiating a farmers market on the site.
"The intent is to start a monthly Sunday morning farmers market, and depending on success, move to fortnightly and weekly. What a great opportunity to showcase the wares of Medowie and surrounds farmers."
A council spokesperson said that negotiations with potential future operators were ongoing.
"Due to the COVID pandemic and cessation of businesses and travel, the negotiations are taking a little longer than anticipated. Given the [uncertainty] of the easing of restrictions, it is difficult to provide a definitive opening date."