Long-time owner says farewell to South Molle
IT was a sad but quietly confident Craig Ross who stepped off South Molle Island today, having sold the Whitsunday jewel to the China Capital Investment Group.
Mr Ross bought the island out of receivership 15 years ago and had been living there for the past seven years.
The Whitsunday tourism identity described his final departure as "bittersweet".
"It's been a very difficult decision to make," he said.
Over the past 15 years, Mr Ross said he'd had a lot of help from local businesses to develop the current resort.
But when the island took a direct hit from Cyclone Ului in 2010 his difficulties increased.
"And it's been almost impossible to recover since then," he said.
Taking aim at the Queensland Government, Mr Ross said rules and regulations had made matters worse.
"They put the lease fees up by 50% in one go - they've crippled the islands yet not once has anyone from government come to me or any of the other islands and said, 'what can we do to make this work?'," he said.
Nonetheless Mr Ross has been approached several times over the years by 'would-be buyers' who could see the potential of the north-facing resort.
"I've fielded so many different offers over the last few years but it's very important it goes to someone that's going to look after it," he said.
"It's not like an ordinary piece of real estate - you've got to protect it and look after it."
Having met their head honcho's, Mr Ross believes the China Capital Investment Group, who also own nearby Daydream Island, will do just that.
"I was very encouraged - they were interested in the nature side of the property and small scale luxury rather than lots and lots of people," he said.
"And they've certainly got the money to develop it."
Asked what he would miss the most, Mr Ross cited the birdlife and the walks.
"And I love the backpacker market because of their attitude to life - I'm constantly re-invigorated by that."
JJL Hotels & Hospitality Group's Peter Harper, the island's selling agent, confirmed "a large scale redevelopment" under the new owners was now on the cards.
With the sale now concluded, the whole process from the start of the procedure to the exchange of contracts has taken less than two months, Mr Harper said.
Included in the sale is around 27ha of leasehold land, featuring 12ha of developable beach front land.
The island is currently home to a 188-room resort, however there is the potential for this to increase to 1300 rooms, subject to planning approval.