The Shellharbour Club:

Cnr Wattle & Shellharbour Rds Shellharbour NSW
(02) 4296 7155 or www.shellys.com.au
Shellys has the attention of its big city brethren. And for good reason.

For over 50 years the Shellharbour Workers Club had served the local Illawarra region 100-odd kilometres south of Sydney. With its poker machines, meat tray raffles, bingo and a Chinese restaurant providing familiar fare of a Friday night, all were housed within a somewhat boxy ‘post Vegas’ skin. But times had changed. Families and a younger demographic moved in, tastes became more sophisticated and locals expect much more from their club. Although the club moved and was re-built in the 1980s and had a refit in 1999, it looked tired and dated.

The board and management team took a calculated punt, devising a five to 10-year four-stage masterplan that would be funded initially by a gaming upgrade, but ultimately providing a range of dining experiences to rival the best in the area — several chic bars, function rooms with high-end finishes — and even plans for an extensive health and fitness centre, and a range of revenue generating tenants on site. Renamed The Shellharbour Club (or ‘Shellys’ as it’s always been known to the locals) Stage One opened last November and includes a new gaming room that seamlessly segues into alfresco gaming, replacing the previous stop-gap outdoor solution which CEO David Whyte described as “resembling bus shelters”. A sparkling new foyer and main entertainment lounge area was added, as well as new bars (O Bar) an upgraded sports bar, a casual noodle bar (Wabi Sabi Noodle House) and new toilet facilities.


The club appointed Altis Architecture with director Rolfe Latimer, interior designer Tiffany Patten and Alex Longley of Arcadia Landscape Architecture to oversee the design and build. They also ensured development management consultants, Tom Zarimis and Lee Pinder at Philon, were on board early. They mapped out the club’s long-term business direction, ensuring commercial opportunities were assessed, good governance and financial viability and detailed planning was put in place. After an open tender, experienced club and hospitality builders, Boden Projects with Bruce Bouchard at the helm, brought it all together.


The club also undertook market research early to see the lay of the land. Management discovered the club’s image was misaligned with its market — that its dwindling membership base was not in fact its market at all. The club had identifies the untapped potential of a market that is accounting for its current explosion in membership. Critically, the operating trading profit has increased five-fold since Philon first commenced its work in developing the five-year rolling business plan (now in its third edition). “They went from reactive to proactive,” said Philon’s Lee Pinder. “They took a calculated, progressive risk in developing the plan initially funded by the Stage One redevelopment but they are extremely rigorous and the board has been very involved in the shared vision for the club. “They went from having a not-for-profit hospitality mentality to realising they weren’t going to be able to give back to their members and the community over the long term until they met market demands for quality and started making money from hospitality. They tied their financial planning to their vision and so far it is very much on track,” he added.


Lee acknowledged that the club sector had been frustrated by certain legislative changes imposed on their operations over the past 10 years — smoking restrictions and poker machine limits for starters — which point clearly to a need to diversify within the industry and not to put all the eggs in one light-flashing basket. “Clubs can no longer rely on gaming to provide their revenue stream. For those wanting to diversify, we always recommend optimal operation of the venue before going forward into other investments,” he said. The club’s smart approach to the planning ensured this was the case, as was the appointment of quality architects and builders to ensure the result was something special. “We really wanted something classy with the ‘wow’ factor and didn’t want to entrust this job to just anyone. We hoped guests would enter the building and see something really different and welcoming — not a replica of other clubs in the area,” CEO David Whyte said. “I think we’ve succeeded — the renovations have been a talking point, not just down here, we’ve also had clubs in Sydney come down and take a look.”


The hoardings are still up, with work on Stage Two scheduled to be completed by Christmas. These works include updating the existing dining areas with a sit-down brasserie restaurant (Fifty Six) and a pizza and pasta bar (Lido) and utilising the existing expansive terrace area to create a fully weather proof outdoor ‘cabana’-style dining experience. Down the track the existing barn-like auditorium will be reconfigured into a multi-use function area with three smaller rooms that can be walled off for private events such as weddings. “The auditorium is huge with lyric-style seating, but in the last 10 years we’ve only filled it twice,” David explained. “As with other parts of the ageing building, there was a lot of under-utilised space with a huge potential for improvement.”


The architects were invited to prepare a club and site masterplan which explored how the existing club would be redefined and integrated into a future strategy. The design concepts developed along two objectives: Firstly, how to reconfigure the club planning to provide a state-of-the-art gaming and alfresco solution and how to maximise the club’s existing unique coastal aspect to drive a new food and beverage facility that would capture the imagination of the local market. Secondly, they explored how the club could tap into future diversification opportunities such as a health and fitness centre, functions, hotel, commercial childcare, medical, age care/residential facilities as the club occupies an extensive 7.8 hectare parcel of land. The plans were ambitious, and a number of challenges existed: “The existing building and its architecture projected a very monumental and imposing structure with outdated facilities that hadn’t been renovated for years,” Rolfe said. Altis identified the north facing terrace with elevated views to Warilla Beach as severely under-utilised and proposed the all-weather outdoor dining cabana from the brasserie. He said the resulting interiors of the Stage One works reflect a relaxed coastal theme with contemporary design using natural stone and timber finishes. “The large, overwhelming spaces have been transformed into smaller areas with an inviting sense of place with an upmarket and more sophisticated atmosphere. The gaming area now has a seamless connection to the alfresco gaming area, easy access and all-weather controls,” Rolfe explained. Contemporary and high quality furniture and lighting fixtures were used throughout, while distinctive and original artwork, along with the tones and clever textural gradations in the Brintons carpet all contribute to the success of the overall design aesthetic, elevating the club well above the ordinary.


Boden Projects’ Bruce Bouchard was most impressed with the transformation of the ’80s building and the fact the finished product was greeted with wide praise from both within the club and by industry peers. “One the most exciting aspects of the project was the installation of one the largest commercial fireplaces in the Southern Hemisphere, which sits as a feature in the main lounge,” Bruce said. “The massive feature wall that houses the fireplace took weeks to construct and finish and incorporates an extensive chimney/flue system. “Other unique features include a false raised floor which extends throughout the new gaming lounges, a complex windbreak screen that protects the alfresco gaming lounge from coastal breezes and a new external bar which is so inviting that it’s easy to understand why the club’s trading has improved.” Stages Three and Four to be completed in 2014 will see the existing function/squash court area transform into an extensive health and fitness facility and Stage Five will tackle the auditorium and grounds. “The health club was something our community was very keen on,” David explained, “and ultimately, our vision is to enable our community to achieve their full potential.” – Julia Langham

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