Paul Little begins Portarlington pub refurb

Paul Little purchased the Portarlington hotel in 2019.

Paul Little has begun a c$10 million refurbishment of Portarlington’s Grand Hotel.

The businessman paid $8.45m for the double storey pub and guesthouse in October, 2019.

The Craig Royal Hotel, in Ballarat, traded in 2020 – just before the national lockdown.

Early last year – before the national COVID lockdown – he appointed new operators, Franco Biasuzzo and Mark Henderson, to begin repositioning the asset, starting with a rejig of the food and beverage offering, focusing on locally sourced product.

Artist’s impression of Sorrento’s Continental Hotel, which is being refurbished.

Also at that time, the renovation was unveiled.

Work began last quarter.

The venue is scheduled to reopen by summer.

Grand Hotel

The c1888 Grand Hotel at 76-80 Newcombe Street, is opposite a reserve and the pier where a Docklands-to-Portarlington ferry, also controlled by Mr Little, docks.

A new beer garden with a pizza oven is earmarked – as is the addition of six guest suites and a commercial kitchen.

An upstairs front deck will be replaced with a replica of the original three storey cast iron balcony while the car park will be upgraded.

“The vision is to bring the grand lady back to life as a destination venue as it was intended some 133 years ago,” the hotel operators said, via the venue’s Facebook page said.

“The designs have been carefully considered to ensure they strengthen the heritage character of the hotel whilst providing a venue that will cater for the strong growth of residents and visitors to the Bellarine Peninsula,” they added.

“The focus on good old fashioned quality service will always remain for the locals and regulars who will remain a part of our family, and the updated venue will enhance the experience for tourists and visitors well into the future”.

Lucky timing

Though Mr Little announced the renovation well before COVID was an issue, regional hotel demand has boomed since the pandemic, with a halt to international travel encouraging Australians to tour locally (story continues below).

This has also ballooned capital values.

In July, St Georges Basin’s Cooee Hotel traded for $7.75m – two years after the vendor paid $3.1m then embarked on a $1m renovation.

Elsewhere in New South Wales, this quarter, Jim Knox outlaid $7m for Moree’s Royal Hotel, 600 kilometres from Sydney, and $13.25m for Armidale’s Whitebull Hotel – both deals considered at bullish prices.

Newcastle East’s Grand Hotel meanwhile traded for $6m – two years after it failed to find a buyer after a public marketing campaign.

Six weeks ago we reported Eumundi Group, backed by a pre-commitment to Dixon Hospitality stakeholder Michael Dixon, spent $6m on Murwillumbah’s Court House Hotel, which is in need of a renovation.

Victorian coast, country pubs in fashion

In May, Sydney publican Justin Hemmes’ Merivale paid operators John and Paul Upham $38m for the Lorne Hotel.

“The Lorne Hotel is an iconic venue in a truly spectacular location,” Mr Hemmes said at the time.

“We feel honoured to continue [the Upham’s] legacy and help usher the pub into the next phase of its incredible 145 year history,” he added.

On the Mornington Peninsula, meanwhile, work started in April to extend Sorrento’s Continental Hotel with a 106-suite hotel and wellness centre.

Eight months ago, a consortium comprising Moda and Salta Capital with pub baron Mazen Tabet, outlaid a speculated $11m for the Isle of Wight site on Phillip Island, also with plans for a major hospitality based project.

In March, 2020, Black Rhino Group, directed by Dave Tomsic and Deborah Mathieson Tomsic – the daughter of pub baron Bruce – spent more than $12m for Ballarat’s c1853 Craig’s Royal Hotel, which had just been renovated.

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Marc Pallisco

A former property analyst and print journalist, Marc is the publisher of