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Mystery buyer scoops up Sydney CBD church in off-market deal

September 12, 2017

The church was recently sold to a mysterious buyer. Photo: Genesian Theatre Company

A property developer who was tipped as being the buyer of a recently sold church in Sydney’s CBD that has been the home of a theatre group for decades has denied his involvement in the sale.

Owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the circa-1868, heritage-listed property at 420 Kent Street sold to a mystery buyer after they approached the church privately with an offer, which long-time tenant Genesian Theatre Company’s director Roger Gimblett believes to be well above $6 million.

There had been speculation that developer George Gialouris bought the church to complement his development approval for a 17-storey hotel and residential complex, worth $38 million, on the three surrounding sites at 422 Kent Street and 275-277 Clarence Street.

The Genesian Theatre Company has been running out of the church for more than 60 years. Photo: Genesian Theatre Company The Genesian Theatre Company has been using the church for more than 60 years. Photo: Genesian Theatre Company

The heritage-listed church contains three early Australian stained glass windows. Photo: Genesian Theatre Company The heritage-listed church contains three early Australian stained glass windows. Photo: Genesian Theatre Company

But the Dural-based developer said although he had “had discussions with the owners over the years”, he had not purchased the church.

“I spoke to (the Catholic Church) on a number of occasions, but we haven’t been able to arrange terms,” he said.

The Catholic Church has instructed the volunteer-run theatre group, which has called the church home for more than 60 years, to vacate the property before November next year.

The church building in the 1950s. Photo: Mitchell Library The church building in the 1950s. Photo: Mitchell Library

Mr Gimblett said the group was “pretty devastated” but said the news was “not entirely unexpected”.

“Because of the skyrocketing property prices in Sydney, there has been a great deal of interest from property developers in our site,” he said.

“Our greatest wish is to retain a central Sydney site after we are due to vacate in November next year, but with Sydney’s prices, that might be easier said than done.”

An aerial photo from the 1870s of the surrounding area. Photo: Mitchell Library An aerial photo from the 1870s of the surrounding area. Photo: Mitchell Library

The director said the group had tried to raise funds to purchase the church.

“We never got to the point of making a firm offer as it became clear that even with grants and loans from members, there was no way we could match the developer’s offer,” he said.

But Mr Gimblett remained optimistic.

“A theatre group is a lot more than merely bricks and mortar,” he said, adding that the Archdiocese and the City of Sydney Council were assisting them in their search for a new venue.

The building, which cannot be knocked down because of its heritage listing, was originally St John’s Church, while also serving as a poor school until 1932. St Vincent de Paul Society then used the space for its first Matthew Talbot Hostel, a homeless shelter for men.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has been contacted for comment.

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