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by Chris Tobin

Businessman Gary Rooney’s desire to stimulate his hometown of Waimate took a step forward on Monday with an informal opening of the substantially refurbished former Waimate Hotel.

Extensive renovation work started in August last year after Mr Rooney bought the old hotel, built in 1910 on the corner of High and Queen Sts.

Now known as The Waimate, the building has extensive dining areas and a bar downstairs. Upstairs features a conference room and another bar.

As well, there is an outdoor dining area facing Queen St on land where a building that housed two shops was demolished.

Mr Rooney and his company, Waimate Properties Ltd, has also purchased other Queen St buildings – the Post Office, old ANZ and Savoy tearooms buildings among them – in addition to Quinn’s Arcade.

His plan is to redevelop and boost the town’s ageing downtown buildings.

A new $2million pharmacy has already been built.

Waimate Properties Ltd spokesman Les Buckingham said Mr Rooney wanted to start his upgrade work with the former Waimate Hotel because it was located on an “iconic”  site in the heart of the main street. He also wanted a quality restaurant.

“It needed to look smart before starting on other buildings.”

Mr Buckingham said a lot of money had been spent on developing the hotel, more than expected, although he would not reveal how much.

“We’ve learnt a lot doing this and we’ll do it for the other old buildings too.”

The intention was to preserve the character of central Waimate. Ideas for future redevelopment were welcomed, Mr Buckingham said.

“We haven’t a hard-and-fast plan. As people come forward with ideas we might be able to accommodate them.”

The Waimate’s general manager, Rick Stevens, said 10 staff had already been employed but eight others were needed. Final staff numbers were expected to be 21 or 22.

“We want The Waimate to be a linchpin.

“We’re giving local people another option and for people from outside who will drive here.

The Waimate will be open every day of the week from 8am.