As aging community and cultural clubs continue to close at a rapid rate due to financial pressures and declining memberships, luxury property developer, GURNER™ has announced a $30million redevelopment of Johnston Street’s The Spanish Club, (Hogar Español) in a deal that will breathe new life into the much-loved club and ensure its survival into the modern era.
The deal will see the 789sqm prime site transformed into a new Spanish bar and restaurant and clubhouse facilities at ground level – to be operated by The Spanish Club – with approximately 50 apartments occupying the 5 – 6 levels above.
The proposed design aesthetic will draw strongly from Spanish mansion architecture, capturing the transition between the heritage of The Spanish Club and the modern interpretation of the apartments above.
What were once regarded as cultural institutions, immigrant social clubs all over Australia have been forced to either adapt or close their doors for good, such as the Sydney Spanish Club which was forced to shut in 2013, and Melbourne’s Celtic Club which is currently on the market with the members looking to relocate to a smaller, more financially viable site.
Melbourne’s Swiss Club has suffered a similar fate with the club forced to lease out its restaurant to new tenants in order to stay afloat and Canberra’s Italian Club has endured a well-documented battle with the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal in an effort to keep its embattled pokies venue alive.
Established in 1969 along Fitzroy’s effervescent Johnston Street, The Spanish Club was founded by Padre Eduardo Sanchez, the Chaplin to the Spanish, who persuaded the Spanish government to assist in purchasing the building to serve as a social centre.
The club was originally called The Spanish Roman Catholic Mission, before later being renamed ‘Hogar Español’ meaning Spanish home.
The club quickly grew to become a home away from home for hundreds of Spanish immigrants settling in Australia in the late 50s and early 60s, and over the years it evolved to offer extensive social and education opportunities for the Spanish and wider community.
One of Johnston Street’s most iconic venues, The Spanish Club has become synonymous with Fitzroy’s celebrated multi-cultural heritage and has played a pivotal role in the area’s vibrant character, most notably as the founder and initial trustee of the annual Johnston Street Festival.
Faced with aging club facilities and the prospect of virtual extinction as it failed to attract new, younger members to replenish its declining demographic base, The Spanish Club’s president Margarita Ros said the Committee decided to use an external third party (Charter Keck Cramer) to approach a number of developers in a competitive redevelopment tender last year, in a move that would secure the club’s future and enable it to survive.
“ Unfortunately in recent years the club’s operations had become unsustainable due to falling membership numbers so we were faced with the prospect of either closing our doors – which would have a devastating impact on the Spanish and wider community – or thinking outside the box to work in partnership with a developer and create a new beginning for us,” she said.
“ The Committee’s vision for the Club was for it to remain where it had been for over 45 years and for it to become one of the most well-known hotspots in Melbourne, where Spanish food, dancing and culture come to life, while still respecting its history,” she said.
“ We wanted to ensure the significance of this site is preserved well into the future, so for this reason we decided to award the tender to GURNER™ as Tim and his team understand and respect what we want to achieve; they absolutely get it.
“ The decision to re-develop was extremely difficult for us but we feel it was the right one. Now we are excited about the future and working with GURNER™ to save The Spanish Club and keep it in its ‘spiritual home’.
GURNER™ founder and developer, Tim Gurner said the deal would guarantee the survival of the historic club while modernising its facilities and allowing the club to create a whole new offering for its members, the Spanish community and the wider Melbourne community.
“ When the Spanish Club first approached us last year I was excited about the prospect of working with the members to breathe new life into their club and allow them to continue to operate into the next 50-100 years.
“ The Spanish Club is a Fitzroy institution, what they’ve done for the area is invaluable and we want to ensure it continues to be a viable enterprise forever.
“ Johnston Street today is a melting pot of different cultures and The Spanish Club has played an integral role in the identity of the local area; to lose all that rich heritage would be a devastating blow for the area’s cultural DNA.
“ The sad reality is that social clubs are dying all over Australia; these institutions must innovate if they are to survive which is exactly what the Spanish Club has done.
“ As developers we have a responsibility to preserve the essence of our city’s heritage and culture so this is a great example of collaborating with social clubs in order to ensure their longevity.
“ We could have easily designed more apartments into this project however for us the motivation is to create a new future for the club so we are working with a reduced profit margin to deliver a substantial 500sqm dedicated to new facilities for the club.
“We hope that the success of this project will encourage other Melbourne social clubs to contemplate similar partnerships in order to see them through into another 50 to 100 years,” he said.
Gurner said the developer’s previous track-record in the local area helped get the team’s submission over the line, with Tim Gurner having previously developed 14 other sites within a one kilometre radius of the site and seven within 300m.
“ I love Collingwood and Fitzroy; surrounded by Melbourne’s best bars, cafés and nightlife there’s just such a rich tapestry of culture and vibrancy which is what we look for when acquiring any new sites.
“ With every site we develop we ensure the location is appealing to our target demographic of 25-40 years old with a thriving café and restaurant culture.
“ This ensures we are building projects in places people want to live and it also ensures our purchasers are buying into a premium location that will always see future growth above market trends.
“ We see Johnston Street as the cultural heart of Fitzroy so it ticks all the boxes for us.
“ The fact that this project had The Spanish Club attached to it made it all the more appealing to me. I love the area’s history and urban grit which I’m dedicated to preserving into the future.
“ This is also evident at our recent sell-out success, 107 Cambridge Street, located just around the corner, which has a retained historic Foy and Gibson façade, as well as 28 Stanley Street which sold out in 24 hours, and we have just completed Oxley, Little Ox and Bellini all within 300m of the Spanish club.
“ As part of The Spanish Club project we will be developing not only a brand new club house but also a Spanish bar and restaurant to rival Melbourne’s best.
“ This restaurant will be operated by The Spanish Club, giving them an opportunity to reinvigorate their brand and attract a whole new generation of members that will ensure the club’s survival for years to come,” he said. GURNER™ is now in the early stages of planning with the project likely to launch in mid-2016.