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Sydney church with 145 years of history sells in five minutes at auction

September 6, 2017

A crowd gathered at 118 Regent St, Redfern, which sold for $3.725 million. Photo: Alison Cheung

A real estate agent outbid several religious groups to buy a 145-year-old church in inner Sydney at auction on Wednesday.

Jim Markakis, the principal of Richardson and Wrench Newtown, forked out $3,725,000 for the former church at 118 Regent Street, Redfern, as an investment for his family – $725,000 more than the reserve price.

“We probably paid a bit too much but it’ll be cheap in 100 years,” said Mr Markakis after the auction, which lasted just over five minutes.

“That’s how I look at it: it’s dear today and it’ll be cheap for my children.”

The church in Redfern was sold at auction on Wednesday after 145 years. Photo: Supplied The church in Redfern was sold at auction on Wednesday after 145 years. Photo: Supplied

He said he had yet to make concrete plans for the 360-square-metre property, which came with heritage listing.

“We’re actually going to put it to tender and just work out who’s the best tenant and the best use for the building,” Mr Markasis said.

“Basically we just bought it because we like the building and we’re going to (use) it for investment. We’ve just got to find a use that’s not detrimental to the heritage and that’s also okay with the council.”

The building is heritage listed but that didn't stop nine groups from bidding at auction. Photo: Supplied The building is heritage listed but that didn’t stop nine groups from bidding at auction. Photo: Supplied

Built in 1872, the Victorian, Gothic-style church had been owned by the Uniting Church, and used by the Tongan Parish for more than 20 years.

Nine groups were active in the bidding, with one making an opening offer of $2 million. Auctioneer Damien Cooley, from Cooley Auctions, accepted bids ranging from $5000 to $300,000.

CBRE South Sydney’s Stephen Grant, who sold the property with colleague Peter Vines, said both Christian and Muslim religious groups made bids at the auction.

“We did have some buyer’s agents representing some Muslim groups,” Mr Grant said.

Moala Manoa has been a member of the Tongan Congregation for more than 20 years. Photo: Alison Cheung Moala Manoa has been a member of the church’s Tongan Congregation for more than 20 years. Photo: Alison Cheung

While the University of New South Wales’ Islamic Society had been hoping to raise funds to buy the church as a place of worship, the group did not make a bid.

Other interested buyers had also been looking to use the building as a restaurant, creative space, retail, commercial showroom and an art gallery.

“We’ve had a lot of high-net-worth individuals looking at it, and even real estate agencies who are looking to convert it to a cool space,” Mr Grant said.

“It’s a beautiful building; it’s good that these kinds of buildings are heritage listed because we should keep this kind of fantastic architecture within our city and especially south Sydney.”

Secretary of the Tongan Congregation Moala Manoa, who has been a member of the parish for more than 20 years, said the property sold for higher than he expected.

“We’re happy with the price,” he said, adding that the congregation had moved to a new church in Marrickville.

The heated auction attracted local Dr Robert Mowbray to visit and enquire about the result. He had worked for the South Sydney Community Aid and the Tenants’ Union’s south Sydney office on the church’s upper level from 1960 to 1980.

“This building has a terrific history,” he said.

“While it was a church, it supported uses for different communities and organisations.”

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