The director of the Sandgate Brewing Company has said that he will carry on and find a new venue for the brewery after a deal with a Brisbane bowls club was rejected.
After what brewery director and local businessman Bill Gollan said was two years of negotiations with the local Sandgate Bowls Club to build a brewery and hospitality venue on site, the deal fell through at the last minute.
Sandgate Brewing Co announced in a Facebook post at the end of last week that it was “shocked and disappointed” by the decision from the Sandgate Bowls Club to discontinue discussions.
“For two years now we’ve been negotiating with the Sandgate Bowls Club to build a fairly revolutionary idea, a craft brewery in a bowls club,” said Gollan.
“The bowls club had a bit of a chequered history, it went into liquidation on at least one occasion.
“We approached them a couple of years ago and said the club is run down, it has no long term viability.
“We said look, what if we go and finance [the project]… at about half a million dollars, we would then run the hospitality side of the business for you at no cost to you and give you a third of the profits.”
Gollan said the brewery and the bowls club had signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2018 to renovate the site and install a microbrewery, and in January 2019 the brewery presented a management agreement to the club’s board.
Sandgate Brewing already had architectural designs drawn up and employed a brewer, who has had to leave the project due to the delays, as well as fronting the costs for its submissions to the council.
“Their membership overwhelmingly supported the project,” Gollan said.
“Unfortunately the board of the bowls club could not see it, they were looking at the minute details rather than the overarching…benefit for the club.
“We’re very disappointed because we spent a lot of money based on the agreement we had with the bowls club back in January.
“It is our belief that we were very close to striking an agreement and we believe we could have.”
Bowls clubs have been struggling in recent years, with many being forced to diversify into events, live music, and craft beer.
The Sandgate RSL, the entity under which the bowls club leased its premises, entered liquidation in January 2018 and both were forced to close. Sandgate Bowls Club was reopened later that month after Brisbane City Council took over the site.
“We were trying to enhance [the club] because bowls clubs such as this one and other similar sporting clubs are struggling very much financially and quite a lot of them have gone broke,” explained Gollan.
“There’s quite a few that have been wound up in Brisbane this year, because they were relying on old business models.”
But even talking the Sandgate Bowls Club members into drinking anything other than XXXX Gold was a challenge, he said.
“We even had with the bowls club the issue of selling XXXX Gold – it was heavily discussed.
“As I recall one member got up there and said “we’re a bowls club and not a beer appreciation society” – he would have been 90-odd.”
However this inability to change or diversify proved to be the cause of the deal’s unravelling.
“We’ve been dealing with a bowls club board which found it very difficult to change and found it difficult to understand the concept.
“It was going to be a vibrant bowls club that would meet the challenges of the 21st century, encouraging younger families to come there and participate in barefoot bowls.
“Over the past 10 to 15 years most businesses have had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant, and bowls clubs are no different from other businesses and that’s what we proposed to them.”
He said that the project had progressed to the point where Sandgate Brewing Company had completed negotiations with Brisbane City Council and the Queensland state government.
“We had some very long negotiations and conversations but in the end they wholeheartedly saw this as a way forward, and thought it was a great possible future model for other bowls clubs to maintan their survival. They looked at the project and they were quite happy.”
He said that the bowls club brewery would have been a great opportunity for growth in the area.
“We believed it was a great concept and we believed it would have been a new way to bring craft brewing to the masses.
“I do feel sorry for the members of the bowls club, [they] had no say in this decision, and the bowls club’s future is now again under threat.”
Sandgate Bowls Club did not respond to requests for comment, but told the Courier Mail that “naturally there were some complexities related to the uniqueness of the proposal”.
Chairman Paul Kelly told the newspaper that there were a number of items which the parties could not agree.
“We as a committee saw the need to protect our members in the club and we couldn’t get an agreement about some of the things we wanted,” he said.
Onwards and upwards
Gollan said that despite the setback, the Sandgate Brewing Company team are not conceding defeat.
“Looking forward, Sandgate Brewing Company is currently looking around for a new spot, we’re not giving up.
“We were being very limited on where we could sell our beer [in the bowls club deal] and that was the downside for us, but now if we can manage to secure these other premises that, we’re currently negotiating about, [we would be able to do it].
He said the Sandgate locals are fully behind the project, and had been from the beginning – prompting the launch of Sandgate Brewing Co in the first place.
“Four years ago a guy walked up to me and said we need a craft brewery in Sandgate. I said I’m an end user not a producer, and didn’t give it much thought,” Gollan explained.
“Then with the growth of the industry and the articles written about it, and [we liked that] the more successful brewing companies really get involved with their local community and seem to do really well, [we want that to be] the ethos of Sandgate Brewing.
“Sandgate, being a small, bayside country town, even though it’s part of Brisbane, fits that particular ID very well, it’s very parochial, very ‘small townish’ and that’s why [the brewery] fits right in.”
“We’ve had a lot of support from the community on this who have told us they will get behind us. It’s going to be very local, a local brewery.”
They have their eyes on a prospective venue at a “high profile” location in Sandgate, and if all goes well an announcement should be made in the coming weeks about the new site.