In Redevelopment by Clyde Mooney

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The massive restoration and development of Sorrento’s famous Continental Hotel has begun, with hotelier Julian Gerner and Stellar Group’s partnership flagging an $80 million project.

The four-storey Continental – popularly known as The Conti – was built 1875 from local limestone. It remains the largest limestone structure in the southern hemisphere. It is a cultural icon of the Mornington Peninsula as a seaside retreat, not far from the Melbourne CBD.

Former Melbourne Pub Group director Gerner acquired the Hotel and adjacent land in 2015 from long-time custodians the Di Pietro family. The imposing structure, protected under State heritage, presented too big a project for Gerner alone, prompting him close it and eventually list it last October.

But the sale campaign gave rise to a partnership with Nicholas Smedley’s Steller Group. The agreement sees Gerner retain a stake, and set to drive operations of the renovated beauty.

Artist’s impression of proposed development

Once completed, the Conti will offer Coppin’s public bar and bistro on street level. The second level will see restoration of Art Deco interior features to become a fine-dining restaurant named 1875. The third level will become three function rooms.

On the lot behind the Hotel, there is already a significant hole in the ground, set to become 38 rooms of five-star accommodation. Construction of this first stage is projected to be completed September 2019. Stage two will see a second accommodation building, with another 61 rooms, as well as a wellness centre, whisky bar and Constitution Hill Kitchen restaurant. This is slated for completion in 2020.

The completed value of the project is estimated will be around $150 million.

Gerner told PubTIC work has begun, and to say he is excited would be an understatement.

Julian Gerner & Nicholas Smedley

“This project has been three and a half years in the making, and finally the vision is coming to life. It’s incredibly rewarding.

“Today I was standing on scaffolding watching individual slate tiles being replaced on the bell tower.”

Gerner also owns Richmond’s Royal Saxon Hotel, and is also in the process of a significant renovation on his Morgan’s Beach Shack, in the former Koonya Hotel, but the legend of The Conti brings with it more than the average venue.

“We really see ourselves more as custodians than owners,” he says.