There were broad smiles and few tears last week when spades cut the once-hallowed turf of Waverley Bowling Club in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs.
Not only did the ceremony mark the launch of an ambitious housing project, including 55 luxury apartments for over-55s, two world-class bowling greens and a new clubhouse and cafe, it marked the end of a long and bitter fight over the future of the club.
Sydney’s second oldest bowling club, dating back to 1893, Waverley had long been struggling financially when members signed a deal with the Easts Group, the owners of the Sydney Roosters NRL team, in 2010.
It was a prime chunk of real estate but Easts vowed to keep the bowling greens and invest in the club for as long as it remained profitable. But in 2014, with the club still in poor financial shape, Easts proposed a $100 million plan to redevelop the site into a Roosters training facility with two 45-metre residential towers.
A community outcry forced that scheme to be dropped and in 2017 the Easts board put forward another, to relocate the bowling facilities to North Bondi and replace them with an aged-care facility and childcare centre.
Rick Roper, 62, the club’s vice-president, then mounted a successful campaign within the membership of the club – many of whom live in the immediate area – to defeat that plan at an extraordinary general meeting of the Easts board, and then took part in four years of consultations to come up with a new plan.
As a result there’ll be four low-rise apartment blocks for over-55s at the Birrell Street site – two of three storeys, one of two storeys and one of six storeys with the new clubhouse at the ground level. Many apartments will have ocean views and the clubhouse will include an indoor-outdoor cafe, bistro and bar.
The work is scheduled to finish in time for the club’s 130th anniversary celebrations in September 2023
“Today marks the turning point for both the Easts Group and Waverley Bowling Club when we begin construction of what will be a magnificent new facility to be enjoyed by Members and the wider community,” said Mirvac Head of Residential Stuart Penklis.
“We are extremely proud to be entrusted with the delivery of such a historic site and look forward to working with Easts to build a new legacy.”
The delivery agreement was only signed with Easts Group in December last year and construction begins before the apartments go on sale, which is scheduled for the second half of this year.
“Easts Group and Waverley Bowling Club worked closely with the community for many years to finalise a proposal that has won broad support,” said Mr Penklis. Easts Group Chairman Nick Politis said the new club would be focused on the future, and through its partnership with Mirvac looked forward to providing the Eastern Suburbs with a first-class sporting, social and community asset.
“The redevelopment secures the future of the Waverley Bowling Club and delivers a valuable community asset to be enjoyed by our Members, residents and local community,” said Mr Politis.
“We are committed to delivering a niche hospitality offering that includes an indoor-outdoor casual and contemporary café, bistro and bar, with a strong garden feel reminiscent of the site’s history, where our community can enjoy a social occasion with friends and family.”
“We are the sixth oldest bowling club in Sydney and there is a lot of history attached to the Waverley Bowling Club,” said Waverley Bowling Club President Patrick Fitzsimons. “Once history is gone, it’s gone forever whereas this is the Phoenix rising from the ashes, coming back better than it ever was.
“It will be the best bowling club in the Eastern Suburbs. I already have people asking when it will open, not just bowlers but families and people in the community. This has always been a little oasis in the Eastern Suburbs where people can come and play barefoot bowls or just sit outside and watch the competition bowlers.”
Mirvac has not yet begun marketing but has already started fielding enquiries from locals.
“Not surprisingly there has been quite a rush of enquiries about purchasing in the development,” said Mr Penklis. “Our last residential project was The Moreton in Bondi which sold out in a single weekend. With only 55 apartments in this project and development sites as good as this one so rare in the east, we are anticipating healthy demand.”
In a touching reminder of the site’s earlier history as St Gabriel’s School, President of the Old Girls’ Union Glen Barnwell entrusted Mirvac with an etched glass panel, the only known remnant to have survived demolition.
“We are all still emotionally invested in the school and it is the wish of the Old Girls that this last known bit of the school finds a permanent place on the site,” said Ms Barnwell.