Throsby Park: Leased!
In 2010 Throsby Park was transferred from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW (now Sydney Living Museums) by an amendment to the Historic Houses Act, 1980. Implicit in the transfer was our intention to find a long-term tenant to take on the management of the property.
In the UK the long-term lease of significant heritage properties for private usage is common, however it is much rarer in Australia. In fact, since we first took on the property, a number of parties had expressed some interest in taking out a lease, but we were not really sure how much concrete interest there would be in a firm lease offer.
The Conservation Management Plan that was developed for Throsby Park concluded that the most appropriate future use for Throsby Park would be as a private residence. Some low-impact commercial uses, including as accommodation or as an art gallery, might have been acceptable but the costs of regulations applying to commercial operations were too high.
Importantly, by leasing the property out the maintenance costs, that would otherwise have to be borne by the NSW state government, could be passed across to the tenant. In addition, the tenant would be required to provide regular ongoing open days, maintaining public access to the property.
A concept plan was developed that showed how the various spaces of the house could be adapted for residential use.
A draft lease was then debated and developed over quite some time, with various models considered. There needed to be a balance between providing enough safeguards to ensure the ongoing care and protection of the property while still allowing the lessee a sense of independence and ownership.
With the advice of a valuer and our legal team, we decided upon an initial lease term of 40 years, with the lessee having the first option at the end of that term to renew it for another 40 years. We felt that this length of term was necessary to give the prospective tenant real incentive to make the considerable investment required to satisfactorily upgrade the property.
The invitation for expressions of interest in the lease was released to the public in April 2014. The real estate agent fielded 65 enquiries about the offer and we received ten submissions by the closing date of 29 May.
The submissions were assessed by an independent panel against a pre-established set of criteria, including the proposed use and its compatibility with the heritage significance of the property, the financial offer and financial capacity of the prospective tenant, experience in managing a heritage property, proposed allowance for public access and an understanding of the requirements of the property’s Conservation Management Plan.
In the end, Tim Throsby’s submission was assessed as being clearly the strongest proposal.
In a statement released by Tim Throsby on the announcement of his successful bid for the lease he declared:
We are thrilled to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconnect the Throsby family to the estate and to the Southern Highlands. Over the next few years we plan to invest in substantial conservation works and improvements in line with the Conservation Management Plan and the lease, so as to make a comfortable family home for us and our six children.