A “Rethink the Rex” public meeting was held at Daylesford Town Hall on Tuesday April 5th. About 120 people were in attendance.

Hepburn Shire Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie, Cr Jen Bray and CEO, Bradley Thomas attended the meeting.

A number of speakers provided perspectives on the Rex building and the history of the Hepburn Hub at the Rex project from the time Council purchased the site in 2016 to the decision to abandon the project and sell the Rex in November 2021.

The Rex, built in 1928, was privately owned until 2016 when the Hepburn Shire Council purchased the site for $6.4 million.

Gina Lyons, President of the Daylesford Community Theatre described the Rex as an iconic building in the heart of the town. She said that, “while the Hepburn Hub at the Rex project may have been costly to complete, the finished result would, at the very least, have provided an asset for the next 50-60 years and beyond.”

Mary Crooks, AO, Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust talked about the importance of retaining the history and culture of a town which often resides in iconic buildings such as the Rex. She outlined ways of developing community projects using social capital such as community owned or social enterprise models.

Jenny Beacham, a local resident, spoke of the need for modern community facilities. “The library, the swimming pool and the Town Hall all look as they did when we came 30 years ago,” she said. “We need to showcase our artists, our food producers and winemakers and we need to feel our Council understands our needs.”

While not providing solutions, the meeting presented many positive ideas about alternatives to developing the Rex. Local architect, David Moore, talked about the possibility of  utilising the water affected back end of the Rex as a two-level car park and building a library or boutique hotel above with entry from Duke Street. This would leave options for community development at the front of the Rex including a cinema, social enterprise café and hospitality training space and a Made In Daylesford Shop.

Local artist, Kristeena Saville, encouraged the community to imagine “young and old coming together in a central space where artisans and artists are encouraged to express and share. A connective space with a theatre and a food hub for youth training with locally produced and made goods, served on locally made ceramics. Where workshops are held, ideas shared, and skills exchanged.”

Jeff Bain, retired Chartered Accountant, suggested using the front part of the building (a little over one third) for community use including facilities such as the cinema, social enterprise café, hospitality training, Made in Daylesford shop, and sell the back section to a private party for commercial use as car parking and accommodation or even as a hotel. “The viability of separating the building in this way via subdivision or possibly stratification would need to be explored,” he said.

Although ideas were plentiful, none of the proposals had been costed and the site issues which have plagued the project and escalated costs were not considered.

The meeting passed resolutions calling on Council to rescind the motion to sell the Rex and to release the Crowe Haworth auditors report  which precipitated an investigation into the Hepburn Hub at the Rex project. However, the Crowe Horwath report is being held in confidence until the release of the Inspectorate Report. An FoI request by The Wombat Post for the Crowe Horwarth report was refused in part because early release could jeopardise prosecutions arising from the Inspectorate report.

The meeting also called on local member of state parliament, Mary Anne Thomas, and the Minister for Local Government to release the Local Government Inspectorate report. A spokesperson for the Inspectorate has said that they are finalising the report.

The Rethink the Rex group plans to arrange further community meetings to explore some of the ideas expressed, especially the use of social capital in community owned or social enterprise projects.

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