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18 November 2020
By DEAN LAWSON
A Wimmera cultural convention and tourism centre is high on a wish list of a family looking for a buyer for a historic Horsham restaurant and gardens.
Leon Toy, 71, who has spent almost five decades operating Toy’s Garden Restaurant, including 33 years in Stawell Road, said he believed the property’s expansive building and established gardens represented a rare opportunity for Horsham to establish a major community development project.
He said his ideal scenario in selling the 2.8-hectare property as part of a transition into retirement would be to pass it on to the Horsham community to develop as a cultural asset.
“That would be the best outcome for me. What I can see, apart from all the history, is a wonderful opportunity to create something quite special for Horsham,” he said.
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“We’re going to have to sell it regardless and it will present many different opportunities for a new owner or owners. But I would love if it could ultimately become a centre that celebrated and promoted our growing multicultural society and tourism and information industry.”
Mr Toy has spent a lifetime working on his enterprise, opening the business in Firebrace Street in 1974 before shifting to Stawell Road and passionately expanding the property to reflect his cultural background.
Buying the property overall, which includes an architecturally designed Chinese garden and one of the largest dining and convention rooms in private hands in Horsham, would require a multi-million-dollar investment.
The Green Park property is at 44 to 54 Stawell Road on the western side of the road, which is also the Western Highway leading into Horsham from Melbourne. It is close to some of the fastest developing residential land in Horsham.
Mr Toy, drawing on his own experiences as a child immigrant and reflecting on the diverse mix of people who had called, were calling or planned to call Horsham, the Wimmera and Victoria home, said he could imagine how a multicultural convention centre might work.
“People from all parts of the world have played a role in what Horsham is today,” he said.
“Apart from that, Horsham needs things like this to attract and support people.”
Apart from First Nations people who gathered on nearby Wimmera River for thousands of years and the European colonists who followed, Green Park has a settlement history involving Chinese market gardeners. Families of Italian migrants have also long been historically prominent in the area, recognised by street names.
Migrant communities in the district, involving people from around the world, including refugees, have more recently continued to expand this diversity.
Mr Toy and his family are the descendants of migrants who arrived in the country seeking their fortunes during the Victorian gold rush.
“I think the timing is probably right – not only for a major development supporting this history and growth – but also for us personally in moving on to pursue our next adventure,” Mr Toy said.
“We could sub-divide and sell it off piece by piece – but it would be ideal for one buyer to acquire the parcel of land because the opportunity to use the site in its entirety is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Mr Toy said while development of a multicultural convention, history or tourism centre or museum – ‘something for Horsham’ – was at the top of his wish list in a sale, he was confident the property would also work if a buyer continued to operate the site as a food and beverage business.
“It might also be ideal for an aged-care facility or other community, government or private enterprise,” he said.
“I would like to see the community benefiting from its future development. The opportunities are endless.”
The restaurant and gardens have provided sites for everything from weddings, vintage-car rallies, roadshows and country music festivals.
Toy’s Garden Restaurant will continue to operate as a takeaway business until a sale goes through.
The entire November 18, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!