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Club Catalina now debt free but questions still linger on sale of BBay Bowling Club

Club Catalina have announced they have paid off their debt to ANZ and celebrate being debt free. While many clubs have been facing down the financial impost of Covid, and more locally the bushfires, the floods and the reduction in summer visitor numbers the news of the club turning around their financial position will come as positive news for our many South East clubs. The club has had a difficult last decade but has moved steadily towards being debt free. In 2009, the Batemans Bay Bowling Club amalgamated with Club Catalina, in a bid to ensure its survival. By March 2013 the Batemans Bay Bowling Club were forced to close their doors following a review in early 2013 the Catalina Country Club executive identified an unsustainable decrease in the bowling club’s turnover. The three years had seen the Batemans Bay Bowling Club devalued by an estimated $6 million in greens buildings, poker machine licences and assets. Catalina's previous chief executive and board had told the bowling club membership that if the bowling club was ever to be sold off the Catalina Club would provide bowling greens. Following the sale this offer was withdrawn. At a Council meeting on 26th June 2012 Councillor Allan Brown advised that “there are business people in the Batemans Bay CBD who have had a visit from a campaigning Councillor who apparently has relayed to them when Council takes over the Batemans Bay Bowling Club and redevelops it a heated swimming pool will be part of the redevelopment plans. Councillor Allan Brown advised as far as he was aware the elected Councillors hadn’t discussed development plans or ideas for the Batemans Bay Bowling Club and asked Council staff to explain what had occurred to date with any discussions about the Batemans Bay Bowling Club. source Mayor Fergus Thomson advised at the time that there had been basic talks, nothing of any great depth. The Catalina Club wants to keep bowling in Batemans Bay and there will be ongoing discussions. At the Finance and Services Committee meeting of 12th March 2013 Pat Bill made a submission to Council

“In 1949 a group of men met in the Batemans Bay School of Arts and formed a working committee with the intent of establishing a bowling club. Local Council made land available and provided a loan of 1,000 pounds ($2,000). Since then the Club has grown considerably from its meagre beginnings and now boasts a magnificent auditorium and four bowling greens. BUT in order to save the Club in 2009, we amalgamated with Catalina - that amalgamation has failed. Catalina took over our debt and we transferred $5.4m of assets plus almost $800k of poker machine entitlements; now we assume that Catalina will retain any profit from the sale and we, the bowlers, will be left with nothing.” Don Cooper, in his Public Forum address to Councillors on the same day offered the following: “It would appear that under the current management regime there has been a strategy by Club Catalina to wind back services and facilities to reduce trade at the Bowling Club in order to justify their desire to close the Club and sell off the premises. Club Catalina should not be profiting from the eviction of bowling members.

“Club Catalina has no intention of providing bowling facilities now or in the future. Morally they should transfer the facility to Council for no more than the debt they took over at amalgamation. They need to sever their involvement with the Bowling Club premises and focus on the Country Club in order address dwindling membership, reduced trading income and large staff turnovers.

Following those submissions Councillor Thomson moved that a briefing be held for councillors on possible ways forward before staff prepare a report to Council and that

following the briefing, staff of Eurobodalla Shire Council prepare a report for Council

outlining what opportunities exist, if any, for Council to play a role in the continuing

future of bowling in Batemans Bay. Batemans Bay Community Meeting 11 October 2015 - Questions from the Floor Tony Beauchamp asked about the appearance of Batemans Bay saying it was dowdy in some areas such as the old bowling club offering a poor first impression of the town. Was there any proposal for a joint venture to develop the site?

Mayor Response: We have had discussions regarding the old bowling club but nothing has happened to date. We hope the land will be developed and tidied up. We can encourage community members (power of people), to contact the Catalina Club.

Maureen Kinross Re Batemans Bay Bowling Club site asked "What can be done?"

Response from Mayor – there is the power of the public. I did see workers cleaning up there recently.

Antoinette Skinner "Can Council approach the Catalina Country Club to make the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site into an aquatic centre?"

Response of the Mayor – we have had discussions with the Catalina Country Club. The future of the site is in their hands.

During this time the Catalina Country Club owned the Bowling Club site. Many felt that they bought the site to gain access to the $800k of poker machine entitlements as these were understood to have been transferred to the Catalina Country Club location shortly after the determination to cease trading at the Bowling Club. Up until July 2016 the Bowling Club site was land that was in private ownership however there remained a clause on the land that had been gifted by Dr Mackay stipulating that, while the land was not classified as a Community reserve, as such, council was to ensure the land remained "for the purpose of community recreation". The Catalina Country Club allowably, under the clause, bought it, supposedly to carry on, but it is strongly suspected it was to offset its losses, hence it was gutted and various parts closed down: the auditorium, bar hours etc. The club at that point owed $1,100,000 and while they considered they had every prospect of being able to trade out of that debt as it was principally depreciation write-downs they accepted the generous offer of the Catalina Country Club who arrived to embrace the bowlers offering at one stage to build new greens at their Catalina Club in Batehaven. The Canberra Times 27 March 2013 reported Catalina's previous chief executive and board had wooed the bowlers and convinced them they could turn around the fortunes of the club, which has a membership of 260 men and women.They expected turnover to increase to about $1 million annually. If the worst-case scenario happened and they did have to sell the club, they would make greens on Catalina's golf course and everyone could continue bowling.A new board and chief executive had ignored that hand-shake agreement, and told the bowlers there was no room at the Catalina. The Beagle has heard that an offer was made to the Catalina Country Club by a Sydney football club wanting to take over the bowling Club site and revitalise the area in a similar vein to its highly profitable and socially inclusive metropolitan premises and facilities. It is understood that the offer was declined. It is speculated that the offer was declined because having such a reputable and highly successful Club in the same area would be financial suicide for the Catalina Club that was thought to also be showing signs of the universal decline in golf club membership across the country. It is understood that the Catalina Country Club was in need of financial support. The bowling club site was listed for sale. There had been previous measures to improve the old building by renovations and extensions. The plan for the Catalina Club was to then sell the Bowling Club, but there was the clause from Dr Mackay’s gift that stipulated it was to remain community recreation. Prospective buyers got a sniff of this and backed away because what they had in mind was not "community recreation", and so the place was closed. We also know from the Catalina Country Club Ltd.2015 - 2016 Annual Report that the land is burdened by a riparian corridor that was highlighted as a contract killer. This corridor restricts development within 40 metres of the high water line and resulted in a 30 percent reduction in available land and that the Catalina Country Club was in negotiations with another possible purchaser. The Catalina Country Club Ltd.2015 - 2016 Annual Report very clearly states "During these negotiations a riparian corridor was highlighted as a contract killer... The deal fell through...." We also know that the land is subject to the same potential inundations as Surfside and Hanging Rock it must therefore have the same building constraints applied. The land is adjacent to a creek and it has to go hand in hand that if Surfside has a flood inundation rule then the same rule applies on the other side of the Clyde and to this creek. We also know from experience that it will be very difficult to set solid foundations as they discovered in Stocklands Mall when it was being constructed. The Mayor has been saying publicly that the land is now worth considerably more than they paid however the figures she has quoted are in conflict with the commercial land values of the adjacent CBD and surely must be in review with the additional impact of a four lane bridge and highway by-pass at its door clearly limiting the market for prospective purchasers required to build a "Gateway" ediface satisfying Council's ideals of its look and amenity. There was only one way you could overturn that sticking point Dr Mackay clause. Council had to buy the property for community recreation purposes as allowed .... and then, within their own powers, change it to Operational. Once Operational they could then do what ever they liked. No one else could do this - only council - so at the end of the day "they had no choice" because they were in fact the only body able to buy the land and turn it around into a "Gateway" project that could include a range of non-community recreational facilities such as seniors housing and retail. From a PerfEx letter at that time: ‘The Bowling Club site is of such supreme significance to our community, that any real or perceived title change is treated with great suspicion, due to our lack of trust in Council, caused by actions already demonstrated by some of those involved. And this classification option seems to take it one step further away from community control. If not this current regime of Councillors, then a future regime would still have the ability to sell the land on a whim, should they desire. Being the only buyer capable of "turning the land around" and getting rid of the "community recreation" clause one might ask why Council payed $2.73m which happens to have been $1.2m above the valuation for the land (as per the valuation document below).

It is known that there were strong comments made by Councillors of the day during their private debates in the lead up to buying the land in April 2016. The main objection was that it was considerably over priced and that a current valuation should be sought as they had no current valuation on the table. Note that the valuation below is for the valuing year July 1st 2016 with the valuation date of 22/9/2016 Had a valuation been in hand at April 26th 2016 when Council decided to by the land it would have been LESS than than the $1.55m shown on the document above. So why did Catherine Dale, General Manager of Eurobodalla Council, under delegated authority from Councillors pay MORE than $1.2m above the Sept 2016 valuation? It is clear that Council had no intention of continuing to keep the facility for "community recreation'" by their own admission with then Mayor Lindsay Brown saying on April 29th, 2016 “Purchasing this strategic site is a financially responsible investment into the future of Batemans Bay and the shire. There has been strong support for Council to purchase this site for some time and we have already heard a number of suggestions on what can be done with it...... an arts cultural cinema building, conference and event space, tourism accommodation, restaurant and cafes, seniors’ living" Council, having bought the land knew it had to move quickly to make the land Operational. That brings us to today: Council are presently within their rights to lease the land to the RMS however it is pleasing to read that there is a proviso, should they then wish to sell, that Council assures the community that they will not lose tenure over any of the four titles of Bowling Club land, without comprehensive and transparent community engagement. It is understood Councillors were privvy to the professional opinion that was offered at the time that the building was non-recoverable and needed to be bulldozed and, at best, the property was worth only $1.4 million for the land component. Eurobodalla Council purchased the Bowling Club site following behind-door discussions. It is understood that councillors at the time privately remarked that they had little option but to endorse the purchase. It is understood that they were given very little information or time in which to make their decision and that it was not a unanimous decision to purchase the site. At the time it was reported in the Bay Post that the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce and Club Catalina were delighted with the sale of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site to Eurobodalla Shire Council. “It is really good to see strategic piece of real estate stay in the hands of the community,” Catalina Country Club president Phil Hardy said. Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce president Allan Rutherford said the chamber was “very happy” about the sale. “We have been lobbying council for 18 months to buy the site,” he said. “It has been a long process.” However, Eurobodalla Mayor Lindsay Brown said it was not a matter of council procrastinating on the purchase. “It wasn’t as though council didn’t want to buy it,” he said. “It has been a complicated process and we have been looking for the right sale,” he said. It is also understood that they were not provided with the financials and that the Audit and Risk Committee had not been consulted to give their approval of the purchase. This is still to be verified though anecdotally it appears that no formal consultation with the Audit and Risk committee was sought. On Friday 29 April 2016 Council announced in a media release it had purchased the former Batemans Bay Bowling Club “after months of confidential property negotiations”. “Council purchased the club on Friday for $2.7 million dollars (excluding GST) after giving General Manager Dr Catherine Dale delegation to start negotiations last year, and agreeing to the purchase price at a confidential meeting earlier this week.” Mayor Lindsay Brown said ”Purchasing this strategic site is a financially responsible investment into the future of Batemans Bay and the shire.”. “There has been strong support for Council to purchase this site for some time” But how responsible an investment is it and exactly what, if any, community consultation revealed the “strong support” that Mayor Brown justified the purchase by? Surely being lobbied for eighteen months and the general manger being given "delegation to start negotiations last year" this possible purchase ties in with the special rate variation submission in February 2015 with Council knowing full well it was crying poor on one hand yet wanted to purchase the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site and pay TOP dollar for it. It is understood by The Beagle that the metropolitan football club who made an offer to buy the site from the Catalina Country Club made an offer to Eurobodalla Council soon after the purchase and that their offer was $300,000 above the $2.7 million paid by Council. Was the purchase a poor risk? - in light of the Batemans Bay CBD as a whole being subject to sea level rise it might not be the best decision as the possible change of use proposed by Council for the site will require a DA that MUST consider sea level rise. - in light of the known construction difficulties of the plaza opposite, specifically in regards to footings and water basins councillors would be aware that there are potential construction difficulties that may see redevelopment costs soar. - in having no plans or purpose at the time while taking out a $2 million loan for an indefinite time many feel that the decision to purchase was ill advised at that the councilors were not sufficiently informed of Council's own procurement processes and the need to consider the "investment" as being responsible use of ratepayers money. - in being advised that the building was in very poor repair one year before purchase and the value of the land was at best $1.4 million - in coming directly after a widely objected to Special Rate Variation was voted in irrespective of 11,000 disapproving signatures indicates an audacity and an extravagance and a Council quite removed from a majority of its residents and ratepayers living in a regulated income economy. It has been noted in the Operational Plan & Budget 2016-2017, that the BBBC acquisition is described in the capital program as “real estate development” and this description is also used for an expenditure item for $106,295 on the same line as the capital expenditure. Possibly THEN councillors might like to advise the community if they consider this a legitimate use of council funds ? Most of the above was first published in:

The Bay Bowling Club purchase needs some Answers - May 6 2017


A bit more of a peek into the Pandora's box of the purchase of the Bowling Club land

Jul 7, 2018

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