New owners have revealed they plan to open the barbed-wire gates of the old Beechworth gaol to create a cycling hub.
While not the traditional use of a gaol, investors who combined to purchase the site for $2.5 million believed it could be one of the “key drivers” to creating a tourism hub for the town.
Plans for the site included reopening gaol tours after Christmas, then – in the long term – accommodation in the gaol, an auditorium for film and music festivals, food and wine, office space and telling the Ned Kelly story.
Project co-founder and former Indigo Council cycling tourism officer Clayton Neil told a public meeting on Monday evening the promotion of cycling would also include the region’s traditional landscape, food and wine.
“There’s been a rapid surge in the interest in cycle tourism and we’ve got amazing attributes to attract people here to have a holiday and ride their bikes,” he said.
“We do want to build a vibrant community and economic precinct here.”
About 200 people gathered in the courtyard, following an invite-only meeting for the Beechworth business community.
The majority congratulated Mr Neil and fellow co-founder Matt Pfahlert, who had been quietly working on the plan for five years.
But some flared up with anger, questioning if Mr Neil used council resources for research and how the gaol could harm their own businesses, which were already struggling financially.
Mr Pfahlert also addressed their concerns during the public meeting.
“It’s not about trying to take business off anyone, it’s not about trying to play favourites with anyone, it’s about growing a pie and having that invitation for everyone to play a role,” he said.
The gaol would be run as a “social enterprise”, where most profits went back into the site itself and provided jobs in the community.
Investors will also have to pay back significant loans used to buy the gaol, plus about $500,000 needed for immediate repairs.
“This is not a site that was wanted by government, this is not a site that was wanted by developers and guess who the last people standing are - it's us,” Mr Pfahlert said.