Every time Marilyn Eccles drives past the massive hole in the ground where her beloved Waverley Bowling Club once stood, she feels her heart miss a beat, writes Sue Williams in Domain.
But these days, it isn’t anxiety over the 128-year-old club’s survival; it’s excitement for its future. “I’m very happy about what’s happening,” says Eccles, 63, the lady president of the club. “It’s been a long story that’s gone on for 10 years, lots of argy-bargy and four different plans.”
This final one now going ahead will deliver a brand new clubhouse and two new greens, alongside 55 new apartments for the over-55s being built on their land in partnership with developer Mirvac and Easts Group. “So, now we’re happy – despite a few accusations that we were selling our soul – that we’re maintaining the club’s integrity and its history, and we’ll be open again on our 130th birthday in September 2023,” Eccles says.
Members of sports, social and legacy clubs all over Australia are similarly now teaming up with developers to secure their financial longevity. In return for selling some of their land to build new housing, the struggling clubs are being paid in cash, new facilities or ownership of some of the properties to secure an income stream.
Sometimes, the matches end in tears. A few clubs have ceased to exist afterwards, like the North Sydney Anzac Memorial Club, which eventually closed down in 2010 in a financial morass.
And there are others, such as the old Balmain Leagues Club in Rozelle, which are still causing heartache and fury in equal measure. Demolished in 2010 amid massive fights over plans for its future, it’s now been earmarked as a dirt dump by the NSW government for the Western Harbour Tunnel. “Is there a word worse than disaster?” asks one developer looking on.
But when a plan works, it can provide an excellent outcome for a club, its members, the residents of the new homes, and the wider community. A good example is Harold Park. The old harness racing club sold off its track and land for $187 million to Mirvac for new housing for around 2500 residents, 3.8 hectares of green space down to the Glebe Foreshore and the renovated Tramsheds.
“It’s been a fantastic result for us,” says John Dumesny, the CEO of Harness Racing NSW and the club’s former chief executive now at a new track in Menangle in Sydney’s south-west, who even ended up buying a terrace in the new residential development.
“We received a fair return for the sale and were able to invest our funds,” he says. “We now have probably the best harness racing set-up in the world, a great training centre, excellent facilities and a secure future.” At the same time, homes in Harold Park have proved extremely popular, with prices rising consistently year-on-year, to a median of $1.535 million for a two-bedroom house and $1.194 million for a two-bedroom apartment.
Another huge headline-maker has been the 125-year-old City Tattersalls Club in the Sydney CBD. Its proposed $762 million 50-storey tower with a 101-room hotel and 240 apartments above the redeveloped club, restaurants, gym and ground-floor retail is awaiting stage two approval from the City of Sydney.
Like many such projects, it’s been a long time coming. Developer ICD Property, who became involved in 2015, had proposed an even more ambitious plan than it pursued through the NSW Land and Environment Court.
“Things were very tense between us and the council as we didn’t see eye-to-eye,” says ICD managing director Matt Khoo. “We came very humbly out of that process, and it’s been a long journey with a lot of challenges, but we’re very excited about it now. It’s a win-win partnership, a good collaboration, built around the social good for members and the need for long-term sustainability, and Sydney will end up with a world-class tower.”
All these projects rely on reaching an agreement with all the parties on logistical finances, and what kind and size of development will be acceptable. Often club members can be quite at odds with the developer, and the wider community and local council might be on board with neither.
“The best agreements give the clubs a long-term source of income so they’ll survive and provide amenity and facilities to residents in the development,” says John Innes, CEO of Pariter, which partners with clubs to reposition their assets through development partnerships. “In return, the residents can provide long-term patronage.
“There are some that have gone wrong; there are plenty of opportunistic developers who do it on a one-off basis. But it takes a lot of work and time and commitment to overcome the challenges and do these projects well.” His company is currently working on a partnership with the Cumberland Golf Club to provide a new clubhouse and seniors’ living that will provide them with an income.
One success story has already played out at Strathfield Golf Club. In financial trouble, members sold a section of their land for funds to build a new clubhouse and give the 18-hole course a $6 million overhaul. Developer Conquest, in return, was able to build nearly 180 apartments in two eight-storey buildings called The Greens.
“Probably 90 per cent of these clubs have fantastic assets but are not financially viable,” says Dennis Vertzayias, director and partner at Laver Residential Projects, who worked on the development. “It was a very well-considered, strategic plan, scrutinised by a lot of people to get a good outcome.
“Now, everyone loves living there, and the club has a beautiful, state-of-the-art new clubhouse, with restaurants and cafes, in place of its old rundown place, and hasn’t had to change the location of a single hole.” It was similar for Brighton Lakes Golf Club at Moorebank, which teamed with Mirvac.
When the developer, Capital Bluestone and Capital Corporation, proposed their plans for the $1 billion Woolooware Bay project, the massive master-planned housing community centred on the redevelopment of the Cronulla Sharks Club, they presented them no fewer than 93 times to different bodies and regularly came up against placard-bearing protestors.
“But I’m pleased to report that some of those carrying the placards have now bought into the place,” says Capital’s director Jim Hunter. Capital’s founding chairperson Steve Grant says, “clubs need to be updated to ensure longevity. There’s a lot of competition now for them from pubs and restaurants”.
The same developer is also rebuilding Bondi Junction RSL, with retail, a restaurant and a 10-storey block above with 78 apartments.
“It’s taken a while, but we hope to finish and reopen in September 2023,” says club president Bill Harrigan. “We’ll be leasing out areas and are buying three units at cost to rent out for the income stream, too.”
That’s the same date as the reopening of the Waverley bowlo, too. Stuart Penklis, head of Mirvac residential, says it’s been a long process but a very worthwhile one. “You need a clear set of objectives and vision in projects like these as there’ll always be roadblocks and hurdles to overcome,” he says.
“This is the way of the future for many clubs and residents who want to live in these areas, and ultimately, you can come up with fantastic outcomes. It can be a win-win for everyone.”
You can read the full feature here in Domain.
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