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Billionaire John Kahlbetzer buys former home of Mullinars casting agency in Darlinghurst

December 5, 2018

Mr Kahlbetzer's Twynam Agricultural Group was the buyer of the former warehouse. Photo: Supplied

It’s the place where the careers of stars such as Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush began.

But now the 1920s building that was the home of the country’s leading casting company Mullinars Casting Consultants for nearly 30 years has been bought by one of the nation’s richest men.

The two-storey character warehouse conversion at 226-230 Liverpool Street, in Darlinghurst, was snapped up for a whopping $7.48 million by agribusiness baron John Dieter Kahlbetzer, who recently came in at No. 42 on the latest Australian Financial Review Rich List with a $1.7 billion fortune.

Liz Mullinar and her husband owned the building for 25 years. Photo: Supplied Liz Mullinar and her husband Rodney Phillips owned the building for almost 30 years. Photo: Supplied

It’s now set to be refurbished and turned into a new head office for the Twynam Agricultural Group that he founded, as well as for some subsidiary, and related, companies.

“By and large, we’re a family firm and it’ll be our family’s office,” said Twynam’s chief financial officer, Colin Sussman, who currently works from the company’s headquarters on Bridge Street in the city.

“But that area is such a lovely area, it’s gorgeous with so much charm. The building, as an old casting studio, I think of as ‘pregnant with character’.

“We’ll get in there, get rid of the old dry wall, and make it into an open-plan office in a building with so much history.”

There was fierce competition during an expressions-of-interest campaign for the building, which has a on a 491-square-metre block, a floor area of 492 square metres, high ceilings and an outdoor deck.

With half the site taken up by a parking lot for five cars, it was an attractive proposition in the middle of Darlinghurst, close to Stanley Street and the CBD.

The building will be a passive investment for the billionaire. Photo: Supplied The building will be converted into a family office for the billionaire. Photo: Supplied

Prospective buyers wanting to develop the site competed with those who wanted to turn it into a residential space, and those who wanted to occupy it for offices. The tightness of the lending market for developers, however, meant the two to three cash buyers in the mix had the upper hand.

“We had a ridiculous amount of inquiries and a lot of interest in the property,” said agent Charles Bowmer, of Karbon Property.

“But in the end, an owner-occupier was successful.”

Mr Kahlbetzer firm bought the block on November 14, and the sale settled a week later.

“Twynam has a two-part strategy, firstly to refurbish and occupy it for some time for themselves and some other businesses involved with the family,” Mr Bowmer said. “And secondly, they’re keeping it for land banking, and potential development in future.”

The building was owned by Mullinars founder Liz Mullinar and her husband, Rodney Phillips, who bought the building in the 1990s, and set up the company there in 1991. In 1995, records show it had a capital value of $450,000.

When Ms Mullinar retired from the business, and set up The Heal For Life Foundation, with its headquarters near Cessnock in the NSW Hunter Valley, she leased it back to her old company. But they moved in June this year to another heritage building in Oxford Street, Surry Hills.

Nicole Kidman was one of the stars who was a familiar face at the Mullinar HQ. Photo: James Alcock Nicole Kidman was one of the stars whose career began at Mullinar’s agency in Darlinghurst. Photo: James Alcock

“Because of new technologies, we didn’t need as much space anymore, so decided to downsize to another building,” said Mullinars chief executive Ann Robinson, who’s just finishing casting for Seven’s new series Australian Gangster, and the coming movie spin-off of ABC-TV’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, called Miss Fisher and The Crypt of Tears.

“We’re again in a heritage building, but this one is three storeys and we share it with four or five other tenants who are also involved in the industry and it’s nice to have a change in conversation away from casting!”

Leasing the building again would have required a lot of renovation work, as little had been done for years, so the building was put on the market instead.

 

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