Distillery’s future up in the air

THE future of the New Norfolk Distillery’s local expansion plans may rest on decisions made at this week’s Derwent Valley Council meeting. The agenda includes several items related to the Willow Court historic site and two of those include the distillery.

The council will consider the new Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan; a request to extend the Derwent Valley Arts licence on rooms at the Willow Court Barracks; an offer to buy two buildings at Willow Court; and a report dealing with lease payments on buildings at Willow Court.

Most notably, the New Norfolk Distillery has offered to pay $450,000 to buy two buildings at Willow Court in order to progress its expansion plans. In an open letter, proponent Tarrant Derksen said if an agreement could not be reached, the New Norfolk Distillery would have to look elsewhere. “We have been acting in good faith with the Derwent Valley Council since 2019 when we began our partnership, however if we are unable to reach an agreement , we must and will explore other options where there is amenability from local councils outside our area for larger projects and the will of their council to make them happen.”

In a report to the council meeting, acting general manager Ron Sanderson writes that the Distillery is seeking a $1.2 million grant from the State Government. “They state that for financial purposes, it is crucial that they have a known sale price for the Alonnah and Occupational Therapy buildings, enabling them to align their plans and secure the necessary funding to bring this vision to life,” Mr Sanderson wrote.

Mr Sanderson said the council had signed a five-year lease on those buildings with the New Norfolk Distillery in 2019, on the understanding that the council would arrange a subdivision to allow the buildings to be sold to the Distillery as the tenant. Four years later the subdivision is yet to be completed, and Mr Sanderson said the previous decision did not require the council to sell the leased premises to any person, including the tenant.

In a separate agenda item, Mr Sanderson has advised councillors that the New Norfolk Distillery’s lease payments totalling just under $78,500 are unpaid. He asks that they consider the following options: Do nothing; Discharge the unpaid rent; Terminate the lease; Send a notice of default to the Guarantor; Make a payment arrangement with the distillery for the unpaid rent.

Mr Derksen today told New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News that no rental payments were due because the leased premises were still not suitable for the intended use. “Since there are no services connected, we are unable to use the leased buildings for the permitted use, and are not required to pay rent,” Mr Derksen said.

“We’ve gone all-in, investing over $200,000 into the site for extensive planning, engineering and architectural plans. We’ve been working with the Derwent Valley Council for over five years on this project, proposing a visionary transformation that will infuse these derelict buildings with a vibrant new energy. Our modern rum distillery will revive Willow Court, breathing life into once forgotten structures and enhancing the destinational appeal of our region,” Mr Derksen said.

In relation to the other agenda items, Mr Sanderson recommends that councillors note the receipt of the Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan and the Curio Projects Willow Court Interpretive Resources to be distributed to precinct partners of Willow Court supporting site activation; and he recommends that the council advise Derwent Valley Arts that it cannot commit to its future tenure of the Barracks building beyond the existing licence agreement but will consider the development of a Community Arts Centre as part of ongoing planning for Willow Court.

The council meeting is at 6pm this Thursday, May 25, in the New Norfolk Courthouse, Circle St, New Norfolk. The full agenda documents are available here or from the council offices.

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