THE owner of the Continental hotel in Sorrento, Julian Gerner, has entered into a joint venture partnership with property developer, Steller.
Under the terms of the deal Steller will refurbish and renovate the 1875 icon and then lease it back to Mr Gerner to run as a going concern.
The announcement is likely to calm critics worried it might fall further into disrepair after lying idle since Mr Gerner took over from long-term owners the Di Pietro family in mid-2016 for a reported $13 million.
Two years of inactivity at the gateway to the main street is “not a good look”, Sorrento-Portsea Chamber of Commerce vice-president Marc Clavin said.
The National Trust-listed Ocean Beach Rd hotel built in 1875 by the “Father of Sorrento”, comedian, actor, entrepreneur and politician George Coppin, is believed to be the largest limestone building in the Southern Hemisphere.
Since taking over Mr Gerner has won contentious planning approvals for extensive redevelopments behind the old pub, even getting the go-ahead to buy a rear car park for $1.98 million – a windfall which he described recently as the “missing link” in the hotel’s viable future.
He now has a piece of the action in the $22 million redevelopment that will feature a public bar and bistro, restaurant, dining room and champagne bar, two function rooms, 38 hotel rooms, cafe, gymnasium, day spa, 25-metre lap pool, deck, spa, sauna and steam room, car park and 16 apartments.
Steller managing director Nicholas Smedley said “building works will complement and enhance the existing heritage and provide a landmark tourist destination for the Mornington Peninsula”.
“Sorrento has grown significantly over the past decade and continues to evolve with year-round population and tourism,” he said. “Steller has had a close eye on the historic hotel since Julian announced plans for restoration.”
Mr Gerner said the “magnificent limestone building [is] deserving of restoration and preservation”.
“I am very proud to be the new custodian of the Continental hotel and to breathe life back into a Sorrento landmark,” he said.
Work will start early next year with a completion date set for early in 2019.
Mr Gerner took over the Beach Shack in 2013 and, since then, has opened the Norfolk Pines Wine Bar and Morgan’s Fish & Chipper. He lives in Sorrento with his wife and young family.