When Sean Hannon bought a derelict, heritage listed former hotel in Bulli 10 years ago he didn't know what he was getting himself in for.
Mr Hannon has a penchant for breathing life back into old buildings, so was excited to pick up the old Denmark Hotel on the Princes Highway for $427,000 in 2011, but said he has now spent in excess of $100,000 just trying to plan what to do with it.
"I love old buildings and I've got another one up at Lithgow, another hotel [I'm restoring] ... I tend to pick on things that people don't want that are a little bit exposed, like old buildings," he said. "Obviously I was a little bit naive."
Mr Hannon's current vision to transform the shell of yesteryear into three apartments has been quite the challenge, he said - considering the close proximity to the road, the lack of driveway, a mine disaster memorial is in the way and that the building was gutted by a previous owner.
"I've never had anything like this, it's a complicated site," he said, adding his intention is not to overdevelop the site. "I'm not interested in making a quick buck, if I was I wouldn't be buying old buildings."
The building sits too close to the boundaries on the 920sqm block forcing access from another property - in this case via a driveway to be built along the right side of the historic Bulli Miner's Cottage next door, which would be paid for by Mr Hannon.
The developer's concept for the Denmark is not to erect a multitude of dwellings but instead to preserve the history of the building while making it habitable again in the form of three apartments inside the existing structure, one in the top level, and two on the bottom.
A modest carpark would be at the rear of the block with access through the rear of the Miner's Cottage. However, this brings about another stumbling block as to what to do with the current Bulli Mine Disaster memorial which is erected behind the cottage.
Mr Hannon said he has offered to pay for it to be moved elsewhere, while a spokeswoman for Wollongong City Council said it was yet to be decided what to do with it.
"At present, no decision has been made on the future of the memorial," she said.
"Although the memorial itself is not listed as a local heritage item, we appreciate that it may be an important item for some of our community members. Any future planning decisions that would affect the memorial's place on site at Bulli Miner's Cottage would involve community consultation."
According to a development application sighted by the Mercury and lodged with council (yet to go on public exhibition), Mr Hannon wants the history of the Denmark to be preserved and on show for current and future generations to be aware of its "significance".
He has suggested incorporating displays of artefacts related to the hotel, the original builder, old Bulli and other early residents of the area; interpretive signage or displays; and, displays in the neighbouring Miners Cottage should its operators be willing; and a dedicated website.
"The design integrates environmentally sustainable measures looking to maximise available sunlight and allow cross-ventilation of habitable areas taking into account ambient traffic noise," the application states.
"An architectural design that retains the existing character and form of the heritage item."
The Denmark was built in 1896 by Danish migrant JP Orvad, initially as a stop over hotel in association with Cobb & Co coaches, according to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
"Both Orvald and his hotel were instrumental to development of Bulli until the opening of the competing Bulli Family Hotel in 1889, the OEH states. "Orvald died in 1891 and his family sold Denmark Hotel in 1892. The hotel gradually lost its importance and was de-licensed in 1907. It went through a series of adaptive reuses (including as flats, boarding house and residence) until it fell into disrepair c. 1987."
Owners previous to Mr Hannon had lodged a DA in 2002 to restore the hotel and "provide a restaurant with bar, accommodation and retail outlet", but it never eventuated.
Mr Hannon's current plans are before council but "yet to be formally lodged", once this has been arranged the application will go on public exhibition.
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