THE former Fletcher Jones factory, its gardens and the iconic silver ball have been sold for more than $1 million.
The new owner is Geelong man Dean Montgomery, who owns Camperdown’s Leura Hotel and the T&G building in Geelong.
Mr Montgomery will take control of the site in 45 days and assured The Standard the existing tenants, such as the Mill Markets, would continue for the time being.
The full price of the FJs site was undisclosed but confirmed by two parties to be more than $1 million.
Mr Montgomery, who now lives predominantly in China, visited the site on Sunday and Monday and said his first priority was maintenance and repairs.
“At the moment I’m just concentrating on the safety aspects of the site, such as fixing all the windows that are broken and trying to fix all the roof leaks,” he said.
“Then I’ll weigh up what to do next.
“As I sit here today with the (Mill) markets, it’s business as usual.
“But now they’ll have a landlord who is prepared to spend funds on stopping the deterioration of the building.”
Mr Montgomery said an engineer’s report on the silver ball had recommended the removal of some rusty pipes, which would take place later this month.
Another engineer’s report would be commissioned soon on the silver ball structure, but he said “it all looks OK at the moment”.
Mr Montgomery is keen to allay the concerns of locals, who treasure the FJs site.
“One thing I’d like to say is that I’m a person who takes a keen interest in heritage — this is not my first heritage-listed property,” he said, giving his ownership and redevelopment of the T&G building in Geelong as an example.
“I’m keen on history and heritage — I’m not one of those people who wants to roll in with a bulldozer.
“Having said that, I’m keeping all my options on table.”
Mr Montgomery confirmed he had met with Warrnambool City Council staff and was keen to have the property rezoned from industrial status to “mixed use”, which would pave the way for residential and commercial use.
“Council seem to be very helpful and constructive in moving forward with the site.
“I think council are keen to change (the zoning) to mixed use.”
He said he had spoken to the market runners and agreed to take over ownership of the markets.
“I’d rather have 100 per cent control of the site,” Mr Montgomery said.
He also expressed his “love of heritage gardens”, saying he’d spent time at his house in Geelong and that he hoped “to have a garden that looked as good as the Fletcher Jones gardens”.
The property was placed on the market in August last year following the bankruptcy of former owner Ian Ballis earlier that year.
However mortgagees Dd&D Securities, which took control of the property after Mr Ballis’ bankruptcy, had been struggling to sell the property with its current zoning and took the “For Sale” signs down in February.
“It was a complicated process,” Dd&D Securities director Ashley King conceded.
“There was a fair bit of interest in the site.
“We had a number of enquiries but obviously there was a range of issues (regarding the zoning and heritage overlays).”
Mr King confirmed Heritage Victoria had undertaken “a routine inspection” of the site to “update themselves on the condition and security of heritage” aspects. Mark Wilson of Wilson Real Estate said there had been “many encumbrances” on the property which had made a sale tricky.
“We are very lucky to have such a purchaser,” Mr Wilson said. “He is very sympathetic to the Fletcher Jones legacy and the history of the site.”