Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Has the Seymour Club turned the corner?

Hopes high that the Elizabeth St venue will finally fulfil its potential.

CHALPAT SONTI January 24, 2013 11:32am

Greg Whiteman, Henry Whiteman, Rex Harris, Ron King and Neil Papageorgiou each have a long history with the Seymour Club - and they are confident that the best is yet to come.

It’s been a long and winding road, with a few false starts and bright rays of hope, but the Seymour Club reckons it might just be on the right track this time.

Optimism is high at the Elizabeth St-based club, which has threatened to fold several times since its 1997 opening — itself a victory after a six-year battle to get the joint venture Seymour Bowling Club-RSL club off the ground.

There were broken political promises and muck-ups with plans, leading to the ill-fated partnership with Ian Bennett’s Breakaway Group, and subsequent receivership of a related company within three years of the club actually opening.

The club got some respite while in voluntary administration when KRMD Investments bought the building and management rights in 2000, and the club itself had a change at board level.

Neil Papageorgiou and Greg Whiteman were part of the new broom.

As former president and life member Rex Harris said: ‘‘Neil and Greg saw us through the ‘almost gone’ stage.’’

Club president Mr Papageorgiou said: ‘‘When KRMD came in, we started looking towards the future and how we were going to survive.’’

‘‘A lot of people back then didn’t give us much chance but we restructured the board. Board members had specific areas they had to look after and it made for a more professional approach.

‘‘It was important for us to put in some financial planning and have some achievable forecasts which we reviewed every 12 months. We inherited a $1.2million debt and we had to look at restructuring that.’’

But a priority was to first pay back debenture holders — largely locals — which didn’t always go down well with the bank and receivers.

‘‘Those people lodged that money in good faith and we cleared that debt in about two years which was really good,’’ Mr Papageorgiou said.

‘‘We accomplished a lot in those first two years and we felt we were starting to jump a few hurdles.

‘‘We started to put shows on, that worked for us really well.’’

Mr Whiteman said: ‘‘The whole business plan had started to come together.’’

‘‘A lot of little things that hadn’t been done because we didn’t have the finances to do them became done.’’

One that was larger than most was the Victorian Government decision to ban smoking from clubs, but the club largely was on the right track.

Mr Papageorgiou said expansion was even on the cards ‘‘because we needed to push the business along’’.

But when things were looking up again, changes to gaming regulations by the Victorian Government threw another spanner in the works.

It saw the club go into debt again to the tune of $1.2million over a 10-year period in order to be entitled to have machines on its premises.

That wasn’t lost on Mr Whiteman, who led the club through the period.

‘‘It seems to be a history of the club that every time we get financially stable something pops up.’’

But the corner seems to have been turned — and this time, it’s hopefully for good, or at least a very long time.

At the last annual meeting, the club voted to accept a motion by life member Ron King and Mr Harris to purchase the freehold of the building and eventually the management rights.

That puts the club into further debt — another $1.2million for the building — but Mr Papageorgiou said ‘‘it’s for a better future’’.

‘‘For years we’ve always said we’ve wanted to have our destiny in our own hands and now it’s there.

‘‘Our constitution is to develop a community club that is owned by its members and that’s what we’re doing.’’

Mr Whiteman agreed.

‘‘It’s been a lot of hard work by a lot of people who a lot of people said had no brains, but we’re all still here.’’

Another life member and former treasurer Henry Whiteman said the club was now being justified for some long-ago forecasts.

‘‘The estimates we did on trading 13 years ago are exactly now where we expected to be in regards to income,’’ he said.

And that will enable some new developments. Chief among them is a long-awaited lift to the first floor which will enable better use of the area and more potential income.

‘‘From a business point of view we are looking at growth and different areas where we can improve things. I look at it like any other business — you’ve got to be on top of it all the time. We’re selling a product and we’ve got to keep evolving.’’

While the club has between 2000 and 3000 general gaming members, board positions are only open to members of the bowls club or RSL. However, Mr Papageorgiou said that shouldn’t concern locals.

‘‘Those clubs do have to be protected since they put up the money initially to start the club and we can’t lose that identity, but we are here for the community.’’

‘‘The club was established as a community club, it’s in Seymour and it’s part of the community and it’s here for everyone.’’

Greg Whiteman said once the poker machine debt was paid off, community grants could also be increased.

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