Montmorency community hub to be sold

Words by Jane Gillard

L-R: Hub coordinator Marissa Johnpillai, co-chair Claire Flynn and treasurer Gus White in happier times. Photo by Jane Gillard

Montmorency’s community hub on Rattray Road will be sold after failing to get council support.

The group sought urgent intervention from Banyule City Council but were knocked back at a full council meeting Monday 20 March.

It is expected the hub at 1-3 Rattray Road in the heart of Montmorency will be put on the market within weeks.

The news is a blow to the grass roots group which bought the former church and kinder from the Uniting Church for $2.2 million in 2020. 

The group raised $520,000 through selling community shares and donations to secure the site.

They secured a bridging loan of $1.4 million for 18 months with the help of interest free member loans worth $600,000.

However, the effect of COVID-19, rising interest rates and the volunteer workload meant that they were not able to obtain a further bridging loan on reasonable terms and sought $1.5 million assistance from Council.

In addition, the group needed to spend about $800,000 to bring the building up to modern standards so that it could be used.

However, the report to councillors said the building needed an investment of about $4 million to maintain the site and bring it up to standard for community use.

The hub board intends to put the buildings on the market to repay its financial debts and refund as much as possible of the community shares.

Montmorency Community Hub Board co-chair Claire Flynn told the council meeting that the community was growing and needed accessible community spaces. 

However, the aim for an independent community hub needed time and the support of Council to allow the group to raise the funds to repay ratepayers.

“The hub has harnessed incredible levels of community support – money skills, enthusiasm – because it makes sense,” she added.

“We have raised over $700,000 in cash, and another $700,000 in kind. We are not asking for $4 million. We are asking for a medium-term loan that we believe we can pay back,” Ms Flynn said.

The group has been advocating to Federal, State and Local Government for financial assistance to keep the site.

It sought an urgent meeting with Banyule in February this year and asked Council to contribute by one of the following:

  • Purchasing shares in the site – like many individuals in the community have done
  • Purchasing the site outright
  • Provide an interest free or low interest loan.

Council rejected all of these options as councillors did not want to invest in the hub without first doing an assessment of what community infrastructure was needed in the north and north-east of the municipality.

However, the council has supported the hub with grants and budget submissions in the past.

State Government and Federal Government have also supported the hub with grants but were not able to provide alternative funding in the time needed.

Councillor Alison Champion, whose ward covers Montmorency, said while the Monty Hub was a worthwhile community space, Council had provided support in the form of many hours council officers had spend meeting with the hub board. 

“I would like to thank everyone who has contributed,” Cr Champion said.

Councillor Mark di Pasquale said: “This is an unfortunate situation … my opinion is that I don’t think Council should have been put in this position in the first place.

“Go into this deal like this at your own peril. I think some from the community went into this deal (thinking) ‘We will just go into this deal and then we can just get Council to bail us out at the end’.  Unfortunately it was a $1.9 million deal and now it is a $4 million deal because that is what these kinds of community hubs need and it will escalate as well.”

Cr di Pasquale added: “I don’t want to put [our residents] rate dollars at stake to run a deal like this.”

Councillor Peter Dimarelos said that it was unfortunate, but it showed that the concept worked. He said it was good to see that Council had provided a space for the concept to continue.

Councillor Tom Melican said: “They have demonstrated a need and they have demonstrated community support but Council is not in a position to fund this.”

In a statement after the meeting, Cr Champion said: “The Monty Community Hub is just that: a community. It is created by local people for the locals. It will thrive regardless of location.”

Banyule City Council will consider allowing the group to use the council-owned Petrie Park Community Hall, which sits behind the RSL, by reducing the $32 per hour fee to a “peppercorn rent”.