No Easy Pickings in RSL Redevelopment

November 2021

Source: Urban Developer

A wave of lucrative, high-profile RSL redevelopments is coming to fruition, with another tranche of proposals under way, but proponents warn that club projects shouldn’t be viewed as low-hanging fruit.

The combination of long- and short-term trends in the hospitality and clubs sector have made RSLs and other community clubs an enticing target for developers in recent years, with the number and scale of projects accelerating.

With favourable locations and site sizes, and a hungry partner, the financial appeal for developers is obvious. But proponents involved in club redevelopment ventures warn that the sector comes with a its own set of considerations and requirements, and that each project can be a difficult and individual process to get right.

Chairman of Capital Corporation Steve Grant suggests that understanding the existing business model and operations of the club, as well as convincing voting club members to get behind a plan, is crucial to success.

“We’ll go in, we do a demographics study, we look at their financials, we’ll understand the use of this space,” says Grant.

Capital Corporation’s project Bond, a joint venture with Bondi Junction RSL, is currently under construction with residential apartments at its core, but other club redevelopments in recent years have featured commercial towers, retail, hotels, or community and hospitality spaces.

“We’re going to have a holistic view of the club and see how we can improve the situation, regardless of whether it’s to knock it down tomorrow, or come up with a staged conversion, or whatever happens. Every case is different,” Grant says.

“They don’t always have spare land, they don’t always have good zoning. It’s really about meeting the people, understanding their constraints and putting together something that is going to help them survive and prosper.”

Stephen Abolakian is managing director at Hyecorp, developers of a joint-venture senior living facility with Willoughby RSL, which will break ground next year. He says club projects go beyond simple transactions, and that building trust and understanding for partnership agreements is a long, involved process.

“We spent a couple of years understanding what was important for the club, the members, and the community,” Abolakian says.

“And then, once understanding all that, seeing if there is a planning and development pathway that can achieve what they wanted. It took years of discussions before there was any pen to paper—we’re probably eight or nine years in now.”

“Every club is different. Every membership base is different. You can’t have a short-term view on this. It’s absolutely a long, long game.

“If you don’t have that local community understanding, you’re not going to be able to do what’s really important. Absolutely it has to stack up, it has to be fundable, but you also need to tick the community box. You have to get that bit right.”

“I’m in the area. I’m here. I’ll be eating at this club with my family, it’s my local,” Abolakian adds.