Chifley's hotel of choice seeks reinvention in modern age

One of Canberra’s most historic hotels – famous for being former prime minister Ben Chifley’s home away from home – will close for six months as its owners seek to relaunch it as a 4.5-star establishment.

The Hotel Kurrajong, a heritage-listed art deco-styled property on National Circuit, was purchased from the ACT government in a joint venture by the TFE Hotels and the NRMA in March last year for $7,650,000.

TFE Hotels chief executive Rachel Argaman said the landmark hotel would close on July 11 for at least six months and undergo extensive refurbishment to further enhance its value.

“The 147-room Hotel Kurrajong Canberra illustrates Commonwealth architecture and the newly refurbished rooms will retain historical features, including pavilions, deep verandahs and radiating courtyards,” she said.

The Kurrajong was designed in 1924 by the government's chief architect, John Smith Murdoch, who also designed Old Parliament House. Mr Chifley suffered a fatal heart attack at the hotel on June 13, 1951.

NRMA head of media Peter Khoury said the organisation remained committed to the redevelopment of the hotel and were "in it for the long haul”.

“What we’re planning to do is renovate the interior of the hotel with the hope that we can relaunch it in early 2015 as a 4.5-star hotel while maintaining the charm of one of the most historic buildings in Canberra,” he said.

Mr Khoury said the renovations would be conducted in accordance with heritage restrictions and every effort would be made to preserve the political history of the hotel.

“We’ll be holding an official launch early next year when the hotel will be reopened to the public,” he said. 

TFE Hotels has managed the transformation of many heritage buildings into hotels and apartments, including the former Treasury offices in Adelaide and the Savoy hotel in Melbourne.

Real Estate agents Colliers International had initially hoped the property would sell for close to $10 million given its political history but were satisfied with the sale to the NRMA and TFE Hotels. 

“We thought it might have been a bit higher, but overall [we’re] happy with the price,” auctioneer Glen Madsen said.

“Heritage sometimes affects the price, because of the limitations of what can be done. It’s always an interesting question of whether heritage will impact positively or negatively on values.”

The hotel closed between 1976 and 1978 due to declining patronage when it became the temporary base for the offices for Parliamentary staff.

The ACT government secured a 50-year lease of the hotel in 1993 and reopened the building as a hotel in 1995 before selling it last year.

This article Chifley's hotel of choice seeks reinvention in modern age was originally published in Brisbane Times.

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