Wests Group big player in state's registered clubs building spree

Wests Group's plans for two high-rise residential towers in the centre of Newcastle could be the most expensive in a building spree by huge licensed clubs in NSW.

Sydney not-for-profit registered clubs such as Mounties Group, Bankstown Sports Club, Canterbury Leagues, Rooty Hill RSL and Dooleys Catholic Club are planning apartment, hotel, shopping and entertainment redevelopments worth more than $100 million each.

Mounties is putting the finishing touches on a $200 million overhaul of Harbord Diggers on a spectacular clifftop between Freshwater and Curl Curl beaches.

But Wests could match that investment after submitting plans to Newcastle council for a redevelopment comprising 166 apartments, a 114-bed aged care facility and 82 "independent living" units for seniors next to its Wests City club.

Wests chief executive Phil Gardner told the Newcastle Herald the final cost of the 14-storey towers would be "somewhere between $140 to $200 million".

And Mr Gardner said the cost of Wests' other major residential venture, 262 serviced dwellings and a 216-bed aged-care facility at Wests Mayfield, could be "something similar".

Wests' original plans for its Mayfield redevelopment.

Wests' original plans for its Mayfield redevelopment.

"It would be up there. It would be one of the biggest, but I don't think it would be the biggest," he said of the Wests City project.

"Certainly, overall, with what we're doing in the region, it would be the biggest.

"The larger clubs are looking to diversify their base. Certainly, that's the same for us."

Wests, like other large licensed clubs, is investing in big building projects as it seeks to spend its profits.

The organisation recorded revenue of $175 million last year, much of it from poker machines, and made a $14 million profit. Its annual revenue was almost $30 million higher than in 2017.

Wests now owns six licensed clubs in Newcastle, the Newcastle Knights, the Executive Inn and Gateway Inn hotels, The Anchorage resort at Port Stephens and the Balance gym chain.

It has also lodged plans for an $18 million Knights Centre of Excellence at Broadmeadow.

The Wests City development, which will sit largely on the site of an existing car park, includes 268 parking spaces and a public laneway memorialising victims of the Newcastle earthquake.

An artist's impression of a proposed public laneway between the apartments and the Wests City licensed club.

An artist's impression of a proposed public laneway between the apartments and the Wests City licensed club.

Wests paid $19 million for the former Newcastle Workers Club site in 2015.

The unit towers and aged-care facility will sit on a rectangular block measuring 6600 square metres.

Wests also plans to redevelop the King Street licensed club, which sits on another 6300 square metres, as a leisure centre, but Mr Gardner said the apartment project was "enough for now".

An analysis by RiskWise Property Research last week found buyers and lenders across Australia were avoiding high-rise apartments after a spate of negative publicity around building defects.

But Mr Gardner said Wests' projects were based on a "five- to 10-year horizon".

"We think that in that time the market will more than catch up," he said.

"If anything, I think we'll find we won't be able to satisfy the market."

He said the over-55s apartments would have rules in place to prevent airbnb operators buying them.

"I think people value the covenants that would go on to these sorts of developments very highly, and that's what we're seeing," he said.

"We think the market will always be there for quality developments. There's been a lot of B-grade apartments built."

Mr Gardner said in September that Wests, the largest licensed club operator in Australia by revenue, regarded retirement living as a core business in the future.

The Hunter and Central Coast Regional Planning Panel refused to give a site-compatibility certificate for the Mayfield project because of its scale, but Wests is working on revising those plans.