THE sale of the former Fletcher Jones site has been welcomed by Warrnambool’s mayor Michael Neoh and a Facebook group that was lobbying for the silver ball to be saved.
Cr Neoh welcomed Geelong businessman Dean Montgomery’s purchase of the site for an undisclosed sum over $1 million, saying it brought a level of certainty to the property.
Previously the former factory, its gardens, and the silver ball had been in the hands of receivers and mortgagees, with neither putting their hand up to complete maintenance works ordered by Heritage Victoria.
“The community has been worried that there has been no clear direction on the site because of the uncertainty on who owned it,” Cr Neoh said.
“The sale will probably alleviate those fears.
“I know the community would like to see something practical and functional on the site while still embracing the heritage.”
He said the community needed to be aware there had to be a balance between all sides. “There are overlays in place so there is protection,” Cr Neoh said.
“There needs to be balance and agreement between the community, Heritage Victoria and the owner ... otherwise it will be left to rot away if there are too many expectations.
“If it’s too heavy-handed to the heritage side and not the practical side it will become a fire hazard.”
Mr Montgomery told The Standard he was keen to get the property rezoned to a mixed status that would open it up to commercial and residential possibilities, and Cr Neoh said that was an option.
Tonia Wilcox, one of the administrators of the Facebook page Save the Silver Ball and Fletchers Gardens, said she and many of the groups’ members were excited by the sale.
“We’ve been thinking it would be great to have a sympathetic benefactor look after (the site) and share it with the community,” Ms Wilcox said.
“(Mr Montgomery) seems to genuinely care and genuinely want to do something that protects the history.
“It is his property and we have to be aware of that.
“But we would dearly love to have a bit of input. Council is asking for input on Liebig Street — why couldn’t we have some input on the silver ball and the building?
“I haven’t got any ideas — honestly I just wanted someone to love and look after the silver ball.”
Ms Wilcox said she was keen for there to remain a space in the future development for a place to acknowledge the history of the site that would be accessible to the public.