The Canberra-based Vikings Group has come to the rescue of a Queanbeyan bowls club, spending $8 million to keep it from the grasp of developers and giving the group a bolthole in NSW, away from ACT government restrictions on the local club industry.
The historic Queanbeyan Bowls Club, rebranded Campbell & George, because of its location on the corner of Campbell and George streets, is due to re-open next week, five years after it went into voluntary administration.
Vikings Group chief executive officer Anthony Hill said Vikings had purchased the down-town property and was bankrolling the renovations to ensure the club appealed to as broad a demographic as possible, with competition bowls, barefoot bowls, beer garden called The Paddock (named because the site was once a police horse paddock), children's play area, Italian bistro and 50 gaming machines included in the revamp.
I can't help but think Queanbeyan in 10 years could be another Braddon.Vikings Group CEO Anthony Hill
Mr Hill said the Canberra group's $8 million investment in Queanbeyan came after poor relations between the ACT government and the club industry for the last four years.
"We had a desire to move into the NSW market given it's become harder and harder in the ACT to do what we do," he said.
Vikings had found that Queanbeyan was "open for business" and the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council has been supportive of the Canberra group moving in.
"They still wanted responsible ownership and we pride ourselves on being a responsible owner," Mr Hill said.
Mr Hill said the Vikings as landlord would take a hands-off approach to management, leaving it in the hands of Queanbeyan Sports and Community Club general manager Shane Holland. He had every confidence Queanbeyan - and Campbell & George - would prove to be a savvy investment for the Vikings Group.
"I can't help but think Queanbeyan in 10 years could be another Braddon, a really vibrant place to be," Mr Hill said.
Mr Hill said he saw Campbell & George as a "plub". "It's a cross between a pub and a club," he said.
Mr Holland said there had been developers circling the site, just off Canberra Avenue, to knock it over for a new use. But there had been a strong desire to retain the club, which opened in 1934 and was the oldest club in Queanbeyan by 30 years, he said.
Mr Holland said about 400 grass-based sporting clubs such as bowls or golf had closed in NSW in the last decade, the facilities usually sold off "in a fire sale and land grab".
"There were options at the time [to sell to a developer]. But we thought, 'Why should another club go down?'," Mr Holland said.
While the move means the club's five competition greens are reduced to two, club vice-president and club member for 15 years, Wayne Brownlie suggested some bowling was better than none.
"It's enabled bowls to continue because at one stage we were on the brink," he said.
The club was initially closed for a year after going into voluntary administration and has been closed since last Christmas Eve for renovations. Mr Holland said he had seen "men crying" when the club closed.
Mr Holland said memberships would be $5 for two years. Mr Hill said Vikings memberships would not be transferrable to Campbell & George.
"They are two different entities," Mr Hill said. "Vikings belongs in the [Tuggeranong] Valley."
Queanbeyan-Palerang Mayor Tim Overall said he had received many representations from club members to keep it a going concern rather than be turned over for a development.
"This bowling club is part of the history and tradition of Queanbeyan," Mr Overall said. "There's been national and Commonwealth Games champions come from this club. And now it's a place for the whole community."