It’s a long and interesting story, with a happy ending, but Bankstown RSL’s brand-new Club was not always a ‘given’.
Scott Dickson, Bankstown RSL CEO came into the club industry working with administrators. He was very much involved with clubs that were in financial distress and either needed to be managed out of the trouble they were in, if possible, or closed down.
This was exactly the situation he faced when he first arrived at Bankstown RSL. It was by no means certain that he wouldn’t be shutting the Club down. It is a now something of a relief for Scott to be able to look back over fifteen years of working with Chairman Bruce Pawley and the board, and see where the Club has come from, and where it’s now heading with the brand new premises.
From being a local entertainment hub through the 1950’s, to the 80’s, with an outstanding range of facilities, the venue went into decline. The reasons for this were many such as changing social habits, to the extent that along with declining revenues, the facilities maintenance became financially unsustainable. The problem the Club faced, was to run a small facility within a larger building, which could then comply from a regulatory perspective and with which it could trade a way back into financial sustainability. At the same time all other options needed to be considered.
One of the reasons the Club was in strife was because the size of the existing building and its age meant that compliance with regularly changing building and fire regulations was costing a fortune that the Club simply did not have. Then there was the prospect of millions of dollars more, required to refit and refurbish an old building, to try and broaden its appeal.
At the end of the day, and given the availability of the land, moving to new premises was a practical and easy decision to make.
The process of a new Club and the move had to start with an involved period of negotiation to acquire the land and buildings from the NSW RSL which, when finalised, was an accomplishment in itself. The challenges thereafter were to take a design to approval, sell the existing Club to an appropriate purchaser and work with Bankstown City Council to ensure that they were treated as partners in the proposed construction.
The Club recognised through research carried out over a number of years that eating out is a popular social pastime in Australia and one which continues to gain momentum. Having only a limited range of options was not going to keep regular patrons coming back. They recognised the need for a variety of choices.
So, the Club set out, not only to provide a range of options but to bring some of the best of those options available, into the new Club. Villaggio, a popular local Pizzeria has been integrated into the new premises along with SALT Bar and Grill, a new creation by celebrity chef Ty Bellingham that offers his famous Thai fusion cooking, along with an excellent range of grilled steaks, ribs and burgers.
John Hennessy form Hennessy’s Coffee operates a cafe which, as a point of difference, will be a street front facility particularly aimed at passing trade and the early morning commuter, as well as serving Club members and guests.
Also on board is Star Buffet, the Asian all-you-can-eat restaurant which had earned a strong following and reputation in the old venue. It now occupies a prime spot on the first floor whilst their noodle offering, Twisted Noodle, operates downstairs within the food court alongside the other restaurants.
Quality dining options will be further enhanced when the Club’s podium level development takes place over the next few years.
Club members are excited about the new premises and have expressed their anticipation on social media. A Club spokesperson said that members have remained true to Bankstown RSL throughout the changes because their levels of service and friendliness have always set the Club apart. “Members still receive all of that, but in a sensational new environment,” they said.
Bankstown RSL has always recognised and will continue to recognise the primary reason for which the Club was founded. It has a proud tradition of supporting ex-servicemen and women and has been fortunate enough to have some highly decorated yet humble ex-service people numbered amongst its members. The new Club has both external and internal tributes to those who have served.
In terms of the exterior design, the overall look of the building and unmissable facade provides a striking presence on the corner of Meredith Street, Bankstown.
The memorial aspect has been addressed through a building-high, illuminated panel beside the Club entrance titled ‘Lest we forget’, in an antique finish. Internally there is the Poppy Wall at the top of the stairs to Star Buffet and a digital the book of remembrance that shows the names of the fallen on a daily basis.
Stage 2 of the development will be building upwards to provide a podium level, complete with functions facilities, bars and a restaurant which is intended to be an iconic eatery, in the style of some of Sydney’s top-rated dining experiences. In addition, the Club will be constructing a Mercure Hotel which will sit above the site and provide accommodation for the growing number of inbound tourism and business travellers coming to Bankstown.
This fifteen year project is a momentous move that would not have been possible without a strong and supportive board behind it. The Club said that the board have been brave when they have needed to be, decisive when it was required, and totally supportive of what has had to take place in order to get the Club to this point in its history. For Bruce Pawley and his fellow board members, it has not been an easy journey, but the rewards of their faith are now there to be admired and enjoyed.