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By Madeleine Gray on August 31, 2017 in News

Picture: Jack High

As usual, controversy is afoot in the cutthroat world of Eastern Suburbs commercial real estate development. However, the latest furore could detrimentally impact the lives of many Eastern Suburbs locals, and could cut short the legacy of a crucial community institution: the Waverley Bowling Club.

Waverley Bowling Club was established in Bondi Junction in 1893, and is one of the oldest bowling clubs in NSW. In 1967 the club moved to its current residence on Birrell Street.

In 2006, essential upgrades and renovations caused the club to fall into debt. In 2009, the board sought expressions of interest in an amalgamation with other sporting clubs. The Easts Group was the successful club chosen for the amalgamation – a decision influenced by Easts’ success in redeveloping other bowling clubs in greater Sydney.

At the time, Easts Group CEO Robert Riddle wrote, “It is not our intention take over and sell your assets”.

According to a joint statement released by the presidents of the Waverley Men’s and Women’s Bowling Clubs, Patrick Fitzsimons and Marilyn Eccles, “Easts promised to prepare a plan to upgrade the premises over a period of time… this plan has never been presented to the board.”

However, recent events suggest clearly that Easts does not intend to upgrade the Waverley site at all. In fact, it plans to do quite the opposite.

On June 27, Easts Group presented Waverley Bowling Club’s board with a new concept plan for the future of the club. Two days later, members of Easts Group were sent notice of an extraordinary general meeting to be held on July 25, which would ask the members to give permission to sell the Waverley site and move the bowling greens to the Bondi Golf and Diggers Club site at North Bondi.

Easts’ plan, explained by Easts Group chief executive Scott Bennetts, is to “create a new state-of-the-art golf and bowling facility at North Bondi [golf course site], which will be fully funded.” Two new bowling greens would be built at North Bondi, as well as a new indoor pool, restaurant, and other amenities.

The Waverley site, meanwhile, would be sold to a third party developer, and turned into an aged care facility, a childcare centre, and a “small club”.

Unsurprisingly, the Waverley Bowling Club community and board are unhappy with this proposal. Firstly, this would see the end of the Waverley Bowling Club as we know it. Secondly, the development proposal at North Bondi hinges on the assumption that Easts will be able to renew its lease of the Diggers site, which is Crown Land, at the end of 2018. If this does not occur, then the Waverley Bowling Club may be lost forever.

At the time of print Easts Group had changed the date of the scheduled extraordinary meeting to 5:30pm on Tuesday, August 22 at 93-97 Spring Street, Bondi Junction. Spokesperson for Waverley Community Action Group, Paris Bisley, encouraged all Waverley club members to attend, and to vote no on Resolutions 3–6.

If Easts Group isn’t willing to reconsider its position, the bowling club board is more than happy to go it alone again, if that’s what it takes to save the site.

“If operating and improving the Waverley site is too much for the Easts Group to handle, the Waverley Bowling Club board is willing to de-amalgamate with Easts and find another party who will fulfill the promises that Easts made, maintaining a community staple of the club and the bowling greens,” the respective bowling club presidents said.