A derelict building full of water damage has been transformed into SkyHigh, a mountain-top dining destination with spectacular views. By Frank Leggett
John Connellan, the managing director and owner of Connellan Industries, was on holiday in Fiji when he first heard about the SkyHigh project. A friend had brought over the Financial Review and as he glanced through it, he saw an expression of interest to take over SkyHigh on Mount Dandenong in Victoria.
He recalls the site was not the most promising thing he had ever seen. The building had been derelict for a few years and the road was badly potholed. Everything was overgrown and part of the ceiling had fallen in.
“The only thing operating was a horrible little cafe called The Greasies,” he says.
Connellan drew up his plans, put in an application and won the lease. The original proposal was costed at about $1.5 million. They ended up spending closer to $4 million.
“In a six-month period, we stripped all the asbestos out of the building, finalised our architectural drawings and fast-tracked everything through town planning,” says Connellan. “I involved Tony Baenziger of Baenziger Coles Architects, who put together some terrific concept work.”
The main issue was that the cafe downstairs was too small for dining and didn’t have any windows. An extension was added to the building that resolved this problem. The cafe and extension, now called The Blade, has plenty of room for seating and large windows were installed to open up the view for the patrons. A gift shop, take-away area and viewing deck were also created.
“Due to necessity, a lot of decisions we made were on the run,” says Connellan. “It was only after the plumbing had been installed that we realised we needed an access way between the downstairs kitchen and the upstairs kitchen. We had to move everything to make a corridor—much to the chagrin of the plumber.”
Connellan Industries are specialist commercial builders and John has over 30 years’ experience in construction. By using his own people for most of the build, problems—and grief—were kept to a minimum.
“We ripped up and repaved all the roads,” says Connellan. “We also did a massive amount of work on the overgrown gardens. We removed all the old stuff and planted over 8000 Australian natives. We then added a garden maze.”
Baenziger Coles supplied the interior colour palette, keeping it elegant but muted so as not to distract from the expansive views. Vinyl plank flooring is used in the cafe and patterned polished concrete anchors the bistro.
The use of utilitarian seating, tables and surfaces is softened at night with the addition of crisp white tablecloths and quality dinnerware.
The derelict shell with one greasy cafe is now a destination for tourists and locals, employing over 70 staff. Local bed and breakfasts have seen a big increase in business and it’s a popular function centre for weddings, birthdays and anniversaries.