From pub to parish

    Inspire Community Church Invercargill Pastor Danny Steel has already started work to turn the former Appleby Tavern into a church and community centre.

    WHEN Inspire Community Church Invercargill Pastor Danny Steel heard God tell him to buy an old pub for $500,000, he knew it would take a miracle to achieve the reality.

    “The problem was the guy wanted half a million for it and I only had $600 and absolutely no hope of getting half a million dollars. But I heard God say to me, ‘this is your building’.”

    It was not the first time Pastor Steel had walked this pioneering road, as he and his late wife Jo had established a church in Invercargill’s former Embassy Theatre building. He then started a church with his second wife in Twizel and established multiple missionary ventures in the Philippines.

    Pastor Steel said he had been told by a prophet that God would supply him the money to buy an Invercargill building.

    By February 2021, he was in Invercargill and unsuccessfully searching for a property.

    A chance meeting with a friend revealed the Appleby Tavern was available.

    “We walked around the building and it was an absolute mess.”

    But he knew beyond doubt he had found the right building.

    A phone call to Todd Real Estate salesperson Dave Penny ended in a conditional four-week contract being signed.

    The ILT sold the Appleby Tavern to a private owner in 2016. Covered in tagging and expelling the stench from its former days, it did little to attract interest from the commercial property market.

    The public bar floor still bears hallmarks of its history in white horse hoof prints, where former colourful Southlander Sam Cusack once entered the bar on horseback because the sign said “No Dogs” – no mention was made about restricting horses.

    At 4am one day, Pastor Steel was woken with two names on his mind and was convinced to share his plans with them but also strongly believed he should not ask for any money.

    By 9am he had been contacted by the two people expressing their interest in partnering with his vision for the old pub – collectively gifting %50,000.

    “I was in shock. In one morning I had $50k. I went from $600 to $50k.

    But victory was short-lived. An unconditional cash offer was also signed on the property which meant Pastor Steel now had to find the full $500,000 in four days. If he defaulted for a moment, the property would go to another buyer.

    “I thought, man I’m sunk. What am I going to do. Where am I going to find $500k?”

    In the early hours of the following morning, he was woken again, with the conviction to return the $50,000 to the donors, thanking them for their offer, explaining an alternative cash offer had been made on the building.

    Later in the day, one of the donors called him to clarify what was needed and offered to gift the full $500,000 purchase price.

    “I just sat down. I was trembling and had tears running down my face. I’ve never met this guy.”

    Pastor Steel phoned the real estate company to confirm he had the money.

    “I’ve just been donated half a million dollars.”

    Mr Penny said he knew he was dealing with a genuine buyer when Pastor Steel approached him and had no reservations about the sale happening.

    “In real estate you have a gut feeling about things and people you are dealing with.”

    As Pastor Steel had never personally met the donor, he turned to his lawyer to check it was a legitimate offer.

    Phone calls were made and the donor’s legitimacy was confirmed.

    But a lack of insurance cover created more delays.

    “They wouldn’t release the money unless we had insurance cover.

    “Only 30 minutes before the purchase deadline the insurance was confirmed.”

    The 1548 sq m floor building included two auditorium areas and a small one-bedroom apartment.

    A youth hall, complete with a pool table, has already been created in the former lounge bar/gaming area and the Fijian Pacific Island Church was using the public bar for weekly services.

    Plans included developing the bistro area to a 140-person auditorium in the Stage 1 development, followed by Stage 2 which will have a capacity of about 450 people.

    The church’s goal to develop a community centre would provide platforms to bring positive changes for those who needed it as well as providing a service to the community. The plans included multi-use rooms for teams of volunteer medical staff, budgeting advisers, mother’s groups and a cafe as well as qualified counselling services to assist people with addictions.

    “A lot of people would say they had a good time in here, but this pub also ruined a lot of people’s lives. Now it’s turned around and restoring lives,” Pastor Steel said.

    One Sunday morning had been put aside during the Fijian Pacific Island Church service to allow people to share their journeys with other.

    “Everyone who got up and gave a testimony they used to drink in this public bar. Now they come here to go to church.

    “They talked about how they had alcohol and drug addictions, broken families and how they would brawl and fight in here and all the destruction when the bar was in its out-of-control stage. Then they talked about how their lives had been healed. They are finding a solidness in life and hope for the future as they started coming to church here.”