It's been 10 years since the decrepit-looking Hotel Australasia in Eden closed. Since then it has dodged a number of bullets including demolition and sale to a now, convicted fraudster.
But now the hotel is set to make a glorious return as a beautifully restored heritage building after Neil Rankin formally settled on the property on April 2, purchasing it from Bega Valley Shire Council.
It's been seven years since Mr Rankin first showed interest in the building and now the passion to restore it is evident.
Despite the vandalism, the water damage, graffiti and smashed glass builder Mr Rankin is clearly excited about the restoration project that will see a 1904 facade gracing Eden's main street.
"It's in a pretty bad state but I look beyond that. The super structure is very strong. There's broken glass and the place has been flooded with water when the water meters were turned on. It's been boarded up for seven years and it smells. It looks sad at the moment but on the bright side it's just cosmetic," Mr Rankin said.
We had to rush in to stop the water, pull up the carpets and save those floorboards. Once they're cleaned up and polished they will look beautiful.Builder and owner of the Hotel Australasia Neil Rankin
Sopping wet old carpets and lino have been stripped from some of the floors, to reveal floorboards which Mr Rankin believes are ironbark.
"We had to rush in to stop the water, pull up the carpets and save those floorboards. Once they're cleaned up and polished they will look beautiful. They're in excellent condition; they've been covered over since the 30s or 40s," he said.
On Friday morning, April 3, the doors were open and the fresh air was streaming in.
Mr Rankin pats a wall, saying that downstairs the walls were made four-brick courses thick, but it's the upstairs walls that delight him even further.
"We've got 18 inch brickwork downstairs with 9 inch brickwork upstairs. I've been in plenty of hotels but I can't recall a first floor having brick walls," Mr Rankin said.
In order to hold up the weight of the first floor, steel beams were used that had to be transported from England's Newcastle shipping area.
"Imagine spending months getting them over here and then having to drag them all the way up that hill from the port."
He believes the hotel was built by John Hind.
"He built a lot of buildings in Eden including the old Westpac building, the police quarters and some of the buildings at Kameruka. The Australasia is a very sound building."
The first job currently taking place is removal of rubbish, old carpets and results of vandalism.
There's 80 per cent of it hidden in the roof. So when we take the 1957 renovations back we'll reveal the original.Builder and owner of the Hotel Australasia Neil Rankin
"Doing the front facade is the next step and it will re-instate it to the 1904 original heritage look. We will bring it back to the look when it was first built, that's step one. At the same time we will be working inside to replace or upgrade services such as sewer, stormwater, plumbing and power."
Mr Rankin thinks it will take about 12 months before he can unveil the facade. It is a key part of the contract for sale and a bank guarantee backs up the priority work.
Upstairs on the verandah there is a tantalising glimpse of the old facade which can just be seen through a hatch.
"Eighty per cent of it is hidden in the roof. So when we take the 1957 renovations back we'll reveal the original," Mr Rankin said.
For the other 20 per cent of the original facade, concrete moulding specialists will be onsite to take mouldings of the existing design and reproduce them as needed.
None of this can get underway until scaffolding has been built up across the front of the building, and for that to happen the town power will need to be turned off.
Outside the hotel is a high voltage cable and in order to build the enclosed scaffolding, the town's power must be turned off. Mr Rankin said there will be notifications and it would probably be in about a month's time.
Looking to the community for ideas
Mr Rankin is planning a space at the front of the hotel for the Eden community radio station.
"It puts them in a better location to interact with people coming off the cruise ships."
Other plans include a micro brewery on one side of the hotel and a couple has already shown interest.
Mr Rankin is at pains to stress he is a builder, not a business developer and is keen to hear from the community.
"It's basically a case of getting this tidied up and then out to tender to see who is interested. I'm handing it over to the community to come up with ideas and lease the areas. To go forward it needs ideas from other people," he said.
Inside, the old plaster will be stripped back to reveal the locally-made bricks. Architraves and 9 inch skirting boards will be stripped of layers of paint to reveal Australian cedar.
Discussions between Mr Rankin, council and the accessibility group has resulted in a win for everybody. The old staircase will remain, Mr Rankin will install a lift to the second floor and the main access to the building will be at the back via a courtyard which will provide level entry from nearby disabled car parking.
The building itself will be taken back to its original footprint, leaving a large area of land at the back after the extension is removed.
The laneway will be restored as a footpath to provide access to the town carpark and will also be a one-way drive in traffic flow.
"The footpath and one-way traffic laneway always worked really well. Now entry will be back where it always has been. The laneway is going to work really well for the town, I think," Mr Rankin said.
"The building does look ratty but when the curtain comes down everyone will be pleasantly surprised at all the hidden treasures."