Wests Group is poised to lodge plans for two 15-storey residential towers in Newcastle's city centre but will need to go back to the drawing board on a massive seniors housing venture at Mayfield.
Wests chief executive Phil Gardner told the Newcastle Herald on Friday that the licensed club group hoped to lodge a development application for the CBD redevelopment this year.
The project, on the wedge-shaped site of the Wests City car park in King Street, includes one tower of apartments and another for seniors living.
Wests paid $19 million for the former Newcastle Workers Club and Newcastle Panthers Club site in 2015 with plans to redevelop it for seniors housing and an entertainment precinct.
Mr Gardner said Wests, the largest licensed club operator in Australia by revenue, regarded retirement living as a core business in the future.
"I think the revenue streams for the club out of these will dwarf anything else," he said. "I'll be much more interested in over-55s and retirement living than I will be in gaming within 10 years, for sure."
He said Wests City, which includes the NEX exhibition and conference centre, would stay open during construction of the twin towers next door.
"We expect to be lodging a DA, once the board approves it, certainly before Christmas," he said.
"We're going to do some work at the back to increase some parking, then it will be all done at the same time. It won't impact on the club operation at all."
One of the towers will contain a mix of "high care" and over-55s units. Both towers will have commercial tenancies at the bottom.
We see over-55s, retirement living and accommodation as being really the future of the clubs.Knights CEO Phil Gardner
The towers, designed by Melbourne architects Fender Katsalidis, will sit between the club and the McDonald's restaurant to the west.
"The towers are really exciting, and we'll get there with Mayfield," Mr Gardner said.
The state government's Hunter and Central Coast Regional Planning Panel has knocked back Wests' plans for 262 serviced dwellings and a 216-bed aged-care facility at its Mayfield licensed club.
The Newcastle Herald reported in July that Wests had lodged a "site compatibility certificate" application with the NSW Department of Planning.
The panel ruled that, in principle, seniors housing was compatible with the Mayfield site, but the proposed scale of the project was an "overdevelopment" and would be detrimental to the surrounding area and the amenity of future residents.
"The Panel was of the opinion that significant change is required to site planning, building height and the density of the proposed development," it wrote in its ruling.
" ... it would need to impose requirements that would result in a significantly different development."
It also noted the development's proximity to the proposed container terminal on the other side of Industrial Drive and its likely effect on "significant" fig trees in William Street.
"The Panel had regard to the 24-hour nature of existing and future port uses in the vicinity of the proposed development, potential impacts on future residents ... and potential impacts or limits on the use of nearby state significant Newcastle Port lands."
Mr Gardner said the panel's main objections were to the size of the proposal.
"We'll go back and review it and probably come back with a more conservative plan," he said.
"I think the main issue they have is bulk and scale, rather than what's going to happen across Industrial Drive on the port land.
"The use of that land in the future, it's going to be a lot cleaner. There's not the heavy industry. The container terminal, you've only got the issue with trucks and containers.
"We can certainly do all the things we need to do, and, if you look at Industrial Drive, there's retirement living all the way up and down it.
"It's an appropriate place for it. It's close to town."
He said locating seniors living next to licensed clubs made them more attractive for families to visit.
"When you go to see grandpa or grandma, you're not going to that traditional [retirement home].
"You can bring grandma and grandpa down to the gym, sit in the coffee shop, young people are coming and going learning to swim. You're still part of the community.
"If we're going to stay relevant, we become communities, and that ageing-in-place strategy is a big part of what that is ... and bring that cradle to the grave situation, get everybody together."
The Wests empire includes six licensed clubs in Newcastle, the Newcastle Knights rugby league team, the Executive Inn and Gateway Inn hotels, The Anchorage resort at Port Stephens and the Balance gym chain.
The group lodged plans last month for an $18 million Knights training base at Broadmeadow.
Wests made $175 million in revenue last year, much of it from poker machines, and recorded a $14 million profit.
Mr Gardner rejected the notion that the organisation was creating a captive audience for its gaming machines by building retirement homes next door.
"I've got 150,000 members. We certainly don't need that. That's not the issue. What we're doing is responding to the need, and we think this is what clubs should do," he said.
"If they want to come and use the club's facilities, that's fine, but that's not the driver for us."
He said the group was looking to expand beyond the Hunter after the "incredibly successful" move to buy The Anchorage in 2012.
"We'd love to have another one like that, somewhere like Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour," he said.
"And we want to have training bases, so for our football development and elite pathways, one on the Central Coast and certainly one at Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour.
"If we're in Port Macquarie or Coffs, it will be more like an Anchorage, and then have training facilities connected to it. That way we've got the Knights flag flying in those areas.
"That's important to us in the long-term. And that's where we see over-55s, retirement living and accommodation as being really the future of the clubs."
Wests' twin projects are among a swathe of retirement living developments in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter, including a $103 million, 223-unit seniors village at Wallsend, the 13-storey Long Tan Village in the inner-city and retirement centres at Merewether, Shortland Waters and Newcastle golf clubs.
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