Rydges Wollongong is doing just that. The 70-room property, heralded as part of Wollongong’s tourism renaissance when it opened in 2004, is about to undergo a startling transformation as it converts into a psychiatric hospital. The hotel owners apparently see mental health treatment as a potentially more profitable market than providing traveller accommodation.
The last paying hotel guests at Rydges Wollongong will stay in January – bookings are being accepted to the end of that month.
The property will then reopen, after refurbishment, as a 90-bed private psychiatric facility to be known as Wollongong Clinic.
Instead of catering for leisure and business travellers, it will house people suffering from anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse problems, bipolar disorder (once known as manic depression), anorexia and post-traumatic stress.
The hotel is the second in Wollongong scheduled for closure, with the 150-bed Hotel Ibis Wollongong set to switch soon to university student accommodation.
Rydges Wollongong’s 23 staff were told last week that the hotel would close at the end of January, the Illawarra Mercury reported. The new psychiatric unit will employ about 80 people, but the hotel staff are unlikely to be among them.
The refurbishment will entail a few changes. Potentially harmful fittings and fixtures will be removed and windows sealed. The hotel currently boasts that it’s “within walking distance to shops, beaches, restaurants, WIN Stadium, the Greater Union cinema and more”, but patients staying in its new incarnation are unlikely to go walking unaccompanied. The hotel’s pool will be decked over and function rooms rebuilt to become outpatient suites.
It will cost AUD4 million to make the 8000-square-metre building safe for staff and clients.
Tourism Wollongong chairman Matt Davidson told the Illawarra Mercury that the city had added 220 rooms last year overall but was set to lose 220 rooms this year.
“For us as a city, it’s not good to be losing hotel rooms but it’s outside our control and we just have to get out there and focus on attracting new hotel developments,” Davidson told the paper.
The Australian Property Trust acquired the building in 2004 when it was known as the City Pacific Hotel. It appointed Rydges to manage the property and in 2005 the trust spent AUD3.25 million upgrading the hotel, including adding nine new rooms.
Written by : Peter Needham