Byron pub family says no to multi-millionaire sales offer

They say everyone has their price but even in the real estate obsessed hot spot of northern NSW - which in the past year has attracted everyone from Hollywood movie stars to international finance moguls - it seems not everything can be bought.

The notoriously tight-knit area was buzzing last week as rumours ran wild that two of Sydney's biggest "billionaire playboys" - Justin Hemmes and Stu Laundy - had descended on the town of Bangalow in search of their next big pub purchase.

Both hoteliers are, it seems, in a spending mood with Laundy recently dropping $41 million on the The Lennox in nearby Lennox Head and Hemmes - whose last big buy was Randwick's Duke Of Gloucester for $32 million - said to be keen to buy into the coveted Byron precinct.

Stu Laundy. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Stu Laundy. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Their target, the 60-year-old Bangalow Hotel, famed among locals as one of the areas oldest pubs and the site of a previous hotel owned by one of the areas original Irish settlers and landowners Denis Garvan.

Its current owners, the Mooney family led by ex-Manly rugby league legend Tom Mooney and wife Cathryn, are well known in the area with a sizeable portfolio which also includes The Rails Hotel in Byron Bay and The Pacific Hotel in Yamba.

Local scuttlebutt suggests overtures in the neighbourhood of $40 million were made to the Mooneys, with Hemmes personally running an eye over the property last Monday.

"Depending on who you believed the offers went as high as $50 million," says one well-informed local who said the prospective sale had the real estate gossip channels on vibrate

"That's all anyone around here talks about anymore. Because every day it seems something else has sold for some insane amount of money.

"Farmers used to sit in the pubs here and talk about ­cattle. Now its Sydney investment bankers talking about property prices."

Tom and Cathryn Mooney are said to have rejected offers to buy their Bangalow pub. Picture: Gary Chigwidden
Tom and Cathryn Mooney are said to have rejected offers to buy their Bangalow pub. Picture: Gary Chigwidden

But despite the dizzying dollars on the table, it's understood negotiations went cold when the Mooneys made it clear by Thursday that - despite some too-ing and fro-ing - it was decided the pub would remain in the family for the foreseeable future.

Both Hemmes and Laundy did not wish to comment on the possible sale.

In the multi-billion dollar maelstrom that is the Byron Bay property market at the moment, it is something of an anomaly for a local to withstand a tempting offer from the big smoke.

In the past few months alone, just over $200 million worth of hotels in the Byron Bay area have changed hands - a gold rush which began last August with the $100 million sale of the famed Byron Beach Hotel to Sydney ­investment firm Moelis.

Laundy then entered the chat with his purchase of The Farm for $16 million last September before another run of big sales including the $19 million hand-off of the 60-year-old Byron Bay Backpackers - set to be redeveloped by Sydney property development firm Podia. Then, it was The Lennox, snapped up by Stu and dad Arthur Laundy and now this week it is The Sun Hotel in Belongil attracting interest after hitting the market with a projected sale price of $12 million.

CBRE Queensland Hotels Director Paul Fraser, who is handling the Sun Hotel sale, says a trickle north by Sydney heavyweights two years ago has now - fuelled by COVID lifestyle changes, one-percent borrowing rates and celebrity cachet - morphed into a full-scale tsunami.

"What you have is an environment where debt has never been cheaper … you have these big guys in Sydney and also Melbourne and Brisbane to an extent. And they're sitting on these big balance sheets with a lot of money around and they're only paying $20,000 interest for every $1 million they borrow," he said.

The Laundy family bought The Lennox for $41 million.
The Laundy family bought The Lennox for $41 million.

"And then you have Byron which is just this incredible micro-economy where property prices have been heading upwards astronomically. So naturally it's now commercial real estate that is following.

"And valuers might look at someone like Arthur Laundy paying $41 million for The Lennox and scratch their heads and wonder why someone would pay that much.

"But the Arthur Laundy's of the world are in a different stratosphere. They look at this strategically as a long-term play. For them a big property acquisition like that would be calculated in terms of how that asset is going to perform not tomorrow but in 10, 20 years down the track."

The Brunswick Hotel, owned for three decades by John "Strop" Cornell, may be the next big ticket item to enter the market with talk it could command offers upwards of $100 million. Cornell and wife Delvene Delaney paid just $2.1 million for the pub in 1990 before ex-Channel Nine boss David Gyngell bought a 50 per-cent share nine years ago for $5.25 million.

Originally published as Byron pub family says no to multi-millionaire sales offer

Justin Hemmes. Picture: Bianca De Marchi
Justin Hemmes. Picture: Bianca De Marchi

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