'A jewel': The Kirribilli Club at Lavendar Bay is being sold without open tender. Photo: Wolter Peeters
The Kirribilli Club would appear to have everything going for it.
Sweeping waterfront views, a well-heeled clientele and a near-new building with details inspired by the work of Brett Whiteley, whose former studio is visible from the club's expansive balcony.
But the ex-services club is facing a multimillion-dollar fire sale seven years after the grand reopening aimed at broadening its appeal.
Despite more than doubling its membership to about 14,000, the club is mired in $9 million of crippling debt.
A predicament the club's chief executive blames on a ''perfect storm'' of factors including the new site's start-up costs and the global financial crisis has led some to question the information disclosed to members and the path the club is taking in its bid to to stave off insolvency.
Despite the club's size, only 116 members attended the crucial meeting on July 31 to approved a move by the board to reclassify the club's $17.5 million Lavender Bay premises as a ''non core" asset so it could be sold this month without going to open tender.
The proposed $15.5 million sale to the NSW Harness Racing Club, part of a 25-year leaseback deal, has been presented to members as the only option to ensure a club "under a perpetual restructure since mid 2009" clears its debts and ''continues to exist''.
''Given the club's financial position, timing is critical," said a notice from the Kirribilli Club, whose board includes Treasurer Joe Hockey's former adviser, Trent Zimmerman.
But concerned member Barry Lloyd said detailed financial information about the deal was limited to little more than a PowerPoint presentation on the night of the meeting.
''When questions were asked about things such as the sale price, why did it not go out to tender and so on, there was a distinct lack of detail in the response,'' Mr Lloyd said.
David McMahon, a member who sought to defer the vote to allow more time to consider the proposal, said he had concerns about whether the sale was the best solution.
''It's clear that the club's premises, which is a jewel in its possession at the moment, is being sold at a heavy discount,'' Mr McMahon said.
The new facility, unveiled on the old club site in 2007 along with 20 multimillion-dollar apartments, appears to have added to its financial woes.
Chief executive Martin Boffey said the club went into the rebuild with debts of $5 million, only to emerge owing a peak of $11.2 million.
''I think the club originally undertook the renovation because it thought in its current form it was just going to fade into oblivion," Mr Boffey said.
''Quite a lot of money was spent on gaming and fit out, and variations to the way the club was set up. But they lost money in the first couple of years pretty significantly, having to restart at a pretty difficult time.''
Mr Boffey, who rejected any suggestion the club had not been transparent with members, said the proposed sale was the only option ''on the table'' to prevent the club appointing an administrator.
Recent efforts to find an amalgamation partner had been unsuccessful, and a membership fund-raising drive last year had resulted in only $50,000 – far short of its $1 million target.
Unlike the early days of clubs, ''most members just want the doors open, they're not financially connected to it, they just want it to exist'', Mr Boffey said.
Bruce Christison, the chief executive of the NSW Harness Racing Club, said his club wanted the Kirribilli Club to keep trading at the site, but had considered what it would do with the investment if it did not.
"We've, I suppose, pondered on that ourselves here as to what went wrong, but I really don't know what the circumstances were to lead to that," he said.
Mr Christison said his club's board had not yet signed off the deal, adding the urgency "was coming from the Kirribilli side of things".
"The fact that they haven't gone with any other options maybe suggests that they see us as their last chance.''