Some years ago, after speaking out on a number of matters, local resident (Terry Fogarty) was invited to join the Board of the Chatswood West Bowling Club as its Secretary and Public Officer. He agreed, mainly because of the compassion club members had shown in welcoming his blind father into their bowling fraternity.
Like most Bowling Clubs of the day, membership was declining (but average age of players increasing) to the point that the ability for the Club to maintain championship teams was badly diminished.
The club had healthy cash reserves. They had three poker machines that bought in good weekly earnings. However the vast majority of earnings was from one player. It was put to the board that we had a social responsibility to assist an addictive player. The Board agreed to de-license the machines.
With the support of Bowls NSW we tried all means to attract new, younger members, with little success.
The club’s land of 3 ha. and other assets were privately held by the club on behalf of its members. They could not benefit directly from such as a sale of the asset. The land was zoned Private Open Space. The proceeds of any asset sale could be distributed to like organisation(s) at the direction of members
Finally,Terry was asked to consider a long term proposal for the club and members. The first thing was to explore the sale of the land for residential development. We placed advertisements in the national papers for expressions of interest. The best EOI was for $20 M (subject to re-zoning approval). When the members viewed the concept plan of 100 Units cascading down the hill were aghast. Was there a less intensive option?.
It suggested that perhaps a better way forward would be for us sharing the site.
The site consisted of a large double storey clubhouse; three full sized bowling links; a large carpark and smaller unused spaces. One thing we did early was a lease to Optus for a mobile phone tower – very lucrative.
The possible options proposed was a joint venture such as:
- aged care accommodation
- another sporting body
- child care facility
- small business such as a plant nursery
We started looking for another sporting body. Surprisingly, to us, was the fact no one was interested.
We then explored the aged care option. There was keen interest. One company drew up detailed plans we took to the Board and members. It involved a relatively mild two storey “motel” like structure backing on to adjoining residential (mainly single story). Some the Board and members lived in some of the houses. Another “no go”.
With the child care option the people from the Sydney Child Care Association came out for a look. From their perspective the site would be ideal for them. However, they cautioned that our ‘oldish’ members would not go for it as they would be upset by the noise of children at play. The members agreed.
By this time we had pretty much explored all the options we had. So we reported back to members that looked it looked liked the only option was to fold. Surprisingly, the members (bless their hearts) asked that we keep trying to find a solution.
Roll forward a few months, Terry was at work at Open Net having a coffee with his boss Dr Ron Watts. He was belly-aching about the situation. Ron’s response was. “Did you say you are looking for another sporting organisation to share your site?”, “Yep”. “Well I am the President of Chatswood Tennis Club, could you arrange for me to meet your Board?” “Yep” and the rest they say is history!
We started out inviting a few of the tennis players to join our Board. From there, we developed a strategic way forward. This was based on initially building four tennis courts on two of the three bowling greens. The bowlers would have the right to continue for as long as they liked. Then the green would be converted to two more tennis courts.
BUT, neither club had the wherewithal to invest in the infrastructure. This meant a third party would be required to finance the project. Eventually, we found Peter Gibson, a tennis pro, willing to take the risk. He would lease the courts on the basis that any operational profit would be shared.
Deal done? Not quite!
We now had to convince members. Their first question was “How much will we be able to transfer to the next club we join? NOTHING!!!
So, no decision to proceed. What to do?
We then put together a pitch to members – the club had been established by passionate sports people who happened to be lawn bowlers. The original members bought shares in the company. They and their wives built the facilities. What if we could build on that foundation? The members concern was that the tennis players would not have the same respect for the land that they had. They could play for a time, go broke and eventually sell the land to developers.
As it so happens, at this time Terry was the Deputy Mayor of Willoughby Council. He took the dilemma to the General Manager John Owen, Finance Director Nick Tobin and Planning Director Greg Woodhams. The suggestion was to give Willoughby Council an easement over the land. Basically, the land could neither be sold or re-zoned without the specific consent of Council.
The final plan was taken back to members. Some five years after embarking on the project, only two out of forty members voted no. The rest deserve our highest respect. They took nothing from a club that they had given so much to.
Some 20 years later, six tennis courts and a large club house are available to the local community. All still zoned Private Open Space.
Terry Fogarty (Former Deputy Mayor & West Ward Councillour, Willoughby City Council)