The Greatest Eyesore of the East?Is the Maroubra Seals (Sports and Community Club) the greatest eyesore in the Eastern Beaches? It appears as an appalling monolith from all perspectives – the east, west, south and north. It gets my vote and I reckon thousands of other residents and visitors to our glorious coastline would agree. Other truly horrible buildings of the east have either been knocked over or made over. Examples that spring to mind are the aptly nicknamed Russian Hospital at Tamarama and the old wedding cake hotel monstrosity with its grotesque colonnade balconies at Bondi Beach.
The concerned reader would naturally ask why is it so bad, how did it get this way, who is responsible and, finally, what can be done to redeem this drop-dead brilliant site plum central on the Maroubra beachfront strip?
It is so bad the senses wince upon seeing it. The aesthetic problems include its bulk, poor design, disjointed facades and incongruous relationship with its neighbours.
I could go on. The building is a blight on the entire block, which should be a delightful destination like the beachfront strips of Bondi, Bronte and Coogee.
The steroidal structure that is Maroubra Seals houses a variety of amenities that turn it into an inward gazing box. There is a gym (some machines have views), pool, auditorium and the dreaded pokies rooms, smoking and non-smoking. Once inside you could be anywhere, even in a basement, oblivious to the mighty ocean across the road. The eastern facade alone provides some views for diners, drinkers and for functions and meetings.
My sister, Consuela, has reminded me to mention that I am no elite pinko Bondi hipster, but a regular RSL and surf club member of many years. I am indeed a friend of Clubland, except for their reliance on poker machines, poor architecture and limited vision.
And the building in question has other problems. There are concerning signs of structural movement on its western façade. Its age and design would make the annual mechanical and electrical service demands expensive to meet.
How did it get like this? The answers will be a mix of a history, inadequate skills and vision of the board, and poor leadership on be- half of the local council. There will be the usual excuses of the legacy of managing such a monolith with little money for effective improvements, especially to its appearance.
The club, like many, is struggling. Its 2016-17 annual report shows an operating loss for the year of around $150,000, a reliance on the dreaded poker machines for revenue (from customer losses) of over $8 million, which accounts for around 80 per cent of total revenue, and a static membership of not quite 10,000. It needs help.What can be done to set this right? Demolition and rebuilding is an obvious option, with pre-approved plans to recoup costs. The difficulties in this will include providing temporary replacement facilities for club members and the management process, which is possibly beyond the club and council’s abilities.
A joint venture redevelopment with a neighbouring site that would allow for staged development and continued occupation is another option. The club does own the car park and the land behind it so a clever solution lays in wait.
My druthers say put lipstick on the pig. Council has a design excellence panel with noted local architects who would understand the current aesthetic and functional problems as well as the huge opportunities. There are willing developers and the huge resources of Clubs NSW and the government with all their pokie revenue to help. Council has had plans prepared for the urban design upgrade of the block – let’s dust them off and use these and the panel to manage a design brief for an architectural competition of firms that have done successful building and precinct makeovers.
Money always follows a good project, as bankers and developers say. Stick a couple of floors on top or convert wasted space within to luxury penthouses or serviced apartments. The council could get creative and commit funds to help, like with a green facade wall, digital business incubators and so on. That is if the building, structurally, is worth saving.
The simple solution to remove the eyesore is to redevelop it within a grand urban design scheme for the entire blighted and largely dysfunctional block. The old council plans need to be revisited and plenty of imagination will be required. Some surgery, a new frock and a loving partner would give the Seals a whole new lease on life.
And talking of frocks and modernity, maybe the board could get some women on board? There were all of nine men running the show as at June 2017.