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Mystery buyer of Liberal’s Melbourne HQ revealed

December 6, 2018

The exterior of 104 Exhibition Street, headquarters of the LIberal Party in Melbourne. Photo: Chris Hopkins

The mystery buyer of the Victorian Liberal Party’s long-held Melbourne headquarters has emerged as luxury Swiss watchmaker Rolex, which bought the historic building in a $37.1 million deal.

The Liberals sealed the deal on 104 Exhibition Street last month only just days after they were trounced at the state election.

Freshly lodged title documents now reveal the buyer to be Rolex Australia, which has placed a caveat over the the art-deco style building.

It is expected the luxury watchmaker will transform the six-level building on the corner of Little Collins Street into a state-of-the-art showroom, while potentially reserving space for a service centre.

The Liberal Party is due to vacate the premises at the end of next year, giving the party time to identify new accommodation.

Known as Centenary Hall and built in 1935, the Exhibition Street building was acquired by Vapold Pty Ltd, a Liberal Party vehicle, for $576,000 in 1976.

It stands in the heart of the Melbourne’s CBD’s ritzy east end, on the corner with Little Collins Street and just opposite QIC’s $800 mixed use development at 80 Collins Street.

Initial expectations were in the $30 million range. The transaction was brokered by Colliers International’s Daniel Wolman, who brokered the property with Matt Stagg and Oliver Hay.

Rolex owns a nearby building at 68-70 Collins Street, a historic three-storey building which is not being used as showroom. Built in 1867, it stands vacant on the edge of QIC’s ambitious redevelopment site.

Four years ago, the luxury Swiss watch retailer bought a whole strata office floor off the plan in a development on nearby Oliver Lane for its repair and after-purchase service facility.

Upmarket watchmakers have long-favoured Collins Street and its surrounds to market their wares.

Earlier this year another well-known Swiss watchmaker Longines chose a Collins Street address for its flagship Australian store. Longines, which is part of the Swatch Group, took a lease at 256 Collins Street, in the mid-city next door to luxury mall St Collins Lane.

Luxury retailers have congregated toward the east end of Collins Street, sometimes called the “Paris end”, where Rolex has just expanded its real estate portfolio.

Nearby, US property giant Pembroke has recently struck a series of luxury retail leasing deals in its revamped T&G building, including signing up Italian fashion designer Versace for its first stand-alone store in Australia.

Rolex’s acquisition of 104 Exhibition Street takes the group a block off Collins Street.

Its move mirrors a similar decision by Chanel in 2013 when it opened its flagship store in 2013 in the ornate former Church of Scientology building on Flinders Lane, a block from Collins Street in the other direction.

At 104 Exhibition Street, the Liberal Party occupies a whole floor while another level is home to the famed Tolarno Galleries, which was founded by George and Mirka Mora in the 60s.

Proceeds from the divestment will come in handy for the cash-strapped party as it seeks to rebuild its prospects following its crushing defeat in the Victorian state poll last month.

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