THE UGLY duckling of central Ipswich, the old courthouse building, is about to undergo a multi-million dollar refurbishment, transforming it into a modern retail and commercial hub.
Axis Capital snapped up the massive 4500sq m federal government site late last year for $3.3 million and has been working on a concept plan for a major facelift before looking at leasing interest.
Company director Robert Bitomsky said plans to reinvent the outer facade of the building included new glass entry, feature lighting, a new colour scheme and a rendered finish to the exterior.
Mr Bitomsky said it was also planned to open the South St end of the building to the park to create a cafe and restaurant area.
He said the project - dubbed 59 East - would be a multi-million dollar investment in the site, with services upgrades alone set to cost $3 million.
Constructed in 1981 as a purpose built court house, the building is currently filled with small rooms, holding cells, court rooms and narrow corridors.
However, Mr Bitomsky said the building was "surprisingly adaptable" as most of the internal walls were not load-bearing walls which allowed space to be opened up.
Preliminary building works have been carried out over the past two weeks with the ground floor already gutted to allow more natural light and open up 2500sq m floor plates.
The exterior has also been pressure cleaned.
Mr Bitomsky said the building would be suitable for a variety of potential uses such as a day hospital, specialist medical clinic, retail, office, entertainment, education or a sports club.
He said his company had been in talks with a couple of prospective tenants and would be calling for expressions of interest next week, to close on June 30.
Under the new plans, car parking for the building will be quadrupled to 80 car bays.
Mayor Paul Pisasale said Axis Capital had shown confidence in the city with their investment and the site was another piece in the city master plan.
"Axis Capital has taken on a huge responsibility," he said.
"This is the gateway into the city and they are going to turn the ugliest-looking building into the nicest-looking building."
In their planning report, prominent architects Arkhefield said the building's transformation would provide "a facelift" to Limestone St.
Axis Capital has previously carried out residential subdivision work at Leichhardt but the courthouse is the group's first fixed asset in Ipswich.
Mr Bitomsky said he believed there were numerous development opportunities in Ipswich as a result of the city's population growth.
The building is located on the corner of Limestone and East St.
"The proximity of this asset to the CBD to the civic area and to the health precinct makes it an attractive site," Mr Bitomsky said.
"We've called it the heart of Ipswich because it is in the centre of the action."