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Andrew Antoniou: ‘It is time to be an all-inclusive club and embrace our multicultural society’

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Following the release of the Cyprus Community of NSW’s proposed development plans for The Cyprus Club in Stanmore, The Greek Herald spoke with the Treasurer of the Board, Andrew Antoniou.

Mr Antoniou speaks openly about the future plans for the Club and how Cypriots can continue to be involved in the Community.

READ MORE: Cyprus Community of NSW presents its development plans for The Cyprus Club in Stanmore.

1. What is your connection to the community?

Cyprus, for me, runs through my blood. It is the connection to the community, its culture, its people and its history that drives me to help our community here in New South Wales.

My mother was born in Cyprus and migrated to Australia. She did not speak English and found refuge within the Cyprus Community. My father was born in Australia, migrated back to Cyprus at a young age, only to return to Australia post-1974. He speaks of the war, losing all they had, having to start again when he returned to Australia. It was being part of the community that got him back on his feet.

The understanding of how a community can play a major role in the lives of many families, just like my own, is my main connection to the community. It is a past that should never be forgotten, memories that should be shared with the next generation and a future that should build on the past to grow an even more connected and stronger community.

Times have changed and our community focus is no longer just a refuge. The next generations have integrated very well into this multicultural society, their needs and wants are vastly different to those of my parents’. I am driven to provide the community with our past, our culture, our language, our food, our dance, our stories of war. I am driven to keep our community relevant to today’s society, where we are multicultural, where people and businesses can integrate and cooperate, where people can gather and share their stories. I am driven to create a legacy for the next generation, no matter how their needs and wants will change, that will see the Cypriot culture remembered and relevant into perpetuity.

Andrew Antoniou.

I have a bachelor’s degree in commerce, majoring in accounting from Macquarie University in Sydney. I am a Member of the Chartered Accountants in Australia and New Zealand and also a Justice of the Peace in NSW. These successes in my life have catapulted me onto the board of the Cyprus Community in NSW Ltd, dare I say, earlier than I had envisaged. The financial distress of our company was a challenge, and the fall of our company was not an option. This would have been a cataclysmic event for our heritage, for our culture, for the 93 years of past directors and communities that created their own legacy through our community and for the future of the Cypriot Community in general.

2. Why do you think a redevelopment is necessary?

Our property achieved greatness during the 80’s and 90’s and was suit for its purpose. Currently it has lost touch with what people’s expectations and wants are from a club and needs to be redeveloped to continue its relevance. For the community to move forward into perpetuity, the community must not rely on the income generated from operations of a club.

The club, for me, is there as a service to the community and should provide the necessary benefits to our members. Such as subsidised meals and drinks, a place for our aged to enjoy their cards and backgammon, a place that mothers and children can catchup, a place where business owners can meet to exchange business experiences and ideas, the home of our Greek schooling and Greek dancing and just a general gathering and meeting place.

The redevelopment will achieve a stable source of income away from club operations (i.e. rents, licences and leases). This income will then be reinvested into our community to achieve all the needs and wants of members and invested for the future of our community. This is not to say that the club operations will not thrive or achieve a profit, but, to do so it needs to change the mentality of our local community and we would need to adapt to the multiculturalism of our members and be an all-inclusive club.

As an example, after having inspected our 6 rental properties, the tenants (whom are not of Cypriot background) were unaware that the club was open to all and felt it was an exclusive club. This mentality evolved over time and has been the biggest downfall to our operations of our club. It is time for a change, time for a different approach and time to be all inclusive and embrace our multicultural society. 

3. What is your vision for the Cyprus Community and for the proposed site?

I see a community that is unified. A community that will finally be able to give back whether for education, culture, humanitarian or health. My vision for the proposed site is a mixed-use space for the front of our site facing Stanmore Road – this is where we will achieve profit from rental operations, where the new club will thrive, where our Greek school and Greek dancing will be housed and where there will be space for our gatherings.

The proposed development plans of the The Cyprus Club. Photo supplied.

The back part of our asset will be redeveloped as a residential site – this will be negotiated with a development partner and is required to fund the creation of the Front site. Having gone through an expression of interest process, the board has an opportunity for members to lease the back part of our asset over a 99-year lease and have the funds required to develop the Front site.

It also means that the community never loses the title of the land it owns and in 99 years the community will be given back all buildings and space that sit on top of the back part, meaning the communities future is also secure into perpetuity. 

4. What challenges do you anticipate for the development? 

Our biggest challenge for the development will be finalising our rezoning – we have support from local, state and federal government, but ultimately it will be the public in the direct area that will raise the most issues particularly as we are developing a large asset in the heart of a highly populated area of the inner west of Sydney. We have worked with our architects to achieve the most optimum of open space including plaza’s, an abundance of green and open communal spaces. We have also committed to widening the streets around our site to allow a better flow of traffic and committed to upgrading the power substation currently on our site.

5. We understand the Club has now entered into an exclusivity agreement for a 4-month period with Platino (the developer). Why was this necessary and what does it mean for the Club?

The Board had reached a point where negotiations with the preferred developer were ready to be presented to our members. The Board entered into an exclusivity agreement that would allow information in the deal to be legally presented to members without legally binding the community to the deal. It provided the financial support required for the community to complete the due diligence process with this developer without using its own funds as the exclusivity fee is non-refundable.

Proposed plans for the site. Photo supplied.

The Board sought legal advice on two fronts prior to signing the agreement, one was from a legal firm that checked our processes and procedures were within our constitutional rights and the second confirmed the content of the exclusivity agreement did not breach registered clubs act, charities acts or our constitution.

6. What are the next steps in this process?

The Board is now releasing the information of the agreement to members for feedback. We are also commissioning reports regarding the due diligence of this developer and will be providing them to members once available.

The Board is also committed to formal and informal information sessions to assist in understanding the deal and/or communication with members.

Once the Proposed Development Agreement (PDA) is available this also will be provided to members.

The view is to have members attend an Extraordinary General Meeting with a completed PDA and Valuation and vote yes or no on this deal sometime during the next 4 months.

We ask members to email us at ccdevelopmentnsw@gmail.com with any information requests or feedback.

7. What terms does the club hope to negotiate in the PDA?

All terms are up for negotiation. We will await further feedback from members and the commissioned reports before detailing any negotiated terms to the developer.

8. What do you believe are the key benefits of this proposal for the wider community?

The wider community will be able to enjoy the open communal spaces, we plan to house a supermarket retailer that is within walking distance of thousands of people living in our area. We have space for speciality retailers such as pharmacists, florists, doctors’ surgeries, and the like. We have space for professional offices that businesses can fill. And of course, the club and the space available for all to enjoy our food, drink and entertainment.

We also have an idea to provide crisis accommodation in two of our proposed residential suites on top of the club. This initiative is our give back to the community and will be available to the local area when matters of domestic violence or natural disasters occur.

9. When do you expect this project to be completed?

Current projections have the total site completed by August 2026.

10. What plans do you have for the relocation of the club? How do you see the relocation funds being used during the construction period?

As part of the current agreement with the potential developer, a relocation fee of $1,000,000 will allow the club to relocate and continue its service to the community from another site. As we are potentially two years away from relocating, the Board has yet to investigate an alternate site but having a large budget will allow us the opportunity to find the space required without interruption to our services.

The proposed plans for the Ground Floor of Building A.

11. What contingency plan is there for any anticipated delays?

We have mitigated this risk by dealing with companies that will take no mortgage over our property, as such eliminating the risk of financial pressure due to delays. We are also dealing with companies that make large amounts of funds available upfront and have organised a profession project management team independent to the board, that will oversee the project until completion.

12. We understand there were some recent amendments to the constitution as voted by members. What were they?

At an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of our members on December 19, 2021, the Board recommended, after receiving legal advice, the changes required to our constitution to assist in becoming a registered charity with the ACNC. This was passed at the EGM with a 78% acceptance of the resolutions.

The main changes were regarding removing the words social, recreational, moral and patriotic interest and entertainment within our constitution and also ensuring that in the event of winding up, any monies remaining must be transferred to organisations with similar purposes and not for the profit or gain of individual members. We as a Board recommended these changes as being a charity creates a degree of responsibility to the directors of the Board to act within our charitable purposes. It creates good corporate governance and will assist the community reach its main purposes for many years to come. It also did not change the way we operate; we have been a Not-for-Profit since incorporation, being a charity only defined our purposes.

I understand that there is a lot of confusion with some of our members with the removal of the words social, recreational and entertainment and to better explain it, it means that we as a community can have as many social, recreational and entertaining events as we like as long as the money raised from these events are then used for charitable purposes (e.g. education, health, cultural advancement or humanitarian rights). Historically, whenever we have had a social event, the monies were used for this purpose anyway, e.g., fundraising for our schooling or fundraising to get our dancers overseas. Another great example is our community holding the annual Wine Festival that is a social and entertaining event/festival that is part of our culture and showcases our Cypriot wines and traditional dances including poems from our Greek School.

The other confusion is the removal of the word patriotic – again it does not change what we do as a community towards our patriotism towards our country. To explain, as a community we cannot start using our funds to help a political party or a particular president (e.g., as a political donation). This would not be in line for our charitable purpose, but using our funds to donate to or assist in any way in regards to the issues in Cyprus over the invasion of 1974 and the humanitarian issue of the victims of the conflict is most definitely part of our charitable purposes.

13. As mentioned, the Club was recently registered as a charity. What are the reasons and benefits of this decision?

For clarity, we did not move from Not-for-profit to a charity – we are a Not-for-Profit registered as a charity (we never lose the Not-for-Profit status). Reviewing our history and what was done in the past, we, as a company, have always acted as a charity but no board before us had gone through the process of registering and defining our purposes.

By defining our charitable purposes, the current Board knew that no changes in our operations were required and that we would benefit from the extra governance responsibility on directors including updating all our procedural documentation. Finally, it also meant that any monies generated needed to be reinvested into our purposes and not misused or mismanaged by future boards.

14. What changes occur now that Club has a charity status? Can gaming still be operated?

Nothing has changed to our operations. Internally though, our procedures are changing to align our templates to the ACNC templates. We are a charity that owns and operates a registered club, the club is another source of income that we must use to achieve our charitable purposes. The legal advice we received found no restriction to a charity owning and running a registered club. So yes, we can still operate our gaming, so long as the profit is put back into our charitable purposes.

15. There are some members of the Community who have expressed concerns regarding the charity status. What would you like to advise them and how can they express their concerns?

We as a board have acted in the best interest of our community. We had received all necessary legal advice, followed the correct procedures, and became a charity with the consent of 78% of members voting at our EGM. We are committed to help our members understand this change and are best contacted via our main club email: cyprusclub@optusnet.com.au.

16. How will the Cyprus community keep helping SEKA members advocate for their beliefs and ideals? We understand as a charity you can offer financial support for humanitarian rights.

SEKA exists for the Justice of Cyprus – it is a humanitarian issue and as such well within our charitable purposes. We can still have our rally’s and trisagion services. We can still have our lunches to raise money for the commemorations and still very much so be an advocate for the rights of our fallen and victims of this crime against humanity.

17. Do you have any other messages you would like to share about this charity status?

It is worthy to note that a charitable status can be revoked with a simple letter to the ACNC from the registered charity. The current board does not recommend this, but for the members who may feel that we may have affected the community in any which way, the exit of a charity is a much more simpler process than the entry.

18. What about people who want to become members. How can they go about doing so?

The Cyprus Community of NSW Ltd is now moving to the next phase of its rejuvenation, it is an institution that has existed for 93 years and the decisions we (all members) make today regarding its future will see us in existence and relevant for another 100 years. We urge all those of Cypriot and non-Cypriot descent to come visit us at our club site (58 Stanmore Road, Stanmore) and learn about our past, hear about our future and become members to help shape the future of our community in NSW.

19. How does the Club plan to become more inclusive and encourage more women and younger Cypriots to join its Board?

The Board is working tirelessly an on a volunteer basis to get the communities future in order. The Board would like to be more engaging with the younger generations and women who would want to join the Board. Please contact us at cyprusclub@optusnet.com.au if you have a keen interest in joining the Board.

20. Members have requested some information regarding the proposed PDA. When can they expect to receive this information? 

All members can email us at ccdevelopmentnsw@gmail.com to be provided with the exclusivity agreement from now. We are also printing the agreements in paper form to be distributed at our AGM on May 1, 2022. Unfortunately we cannot make public the terms of the agreement as this can only legally be provided to members (not the general public). As the commissioned reports are available – these will also be distributed as well.

21. What was the outcome of the first Information session held on April 17?

The first formal information meeting held on April 17, 2022 uncovered a leak on the board of directors, where the exclusivity agreement was leaked to particular members prior to the meeting. This changed the information session from being an information session to a debate about the specifics of the agreement and left other members without knowledge of the agreement disadvantaged.

The meeting was cut short, and the board will attend to informing members of the exclusivity agreement details at the AGM on May 1.

22. What can members expect at the AGM?

Normal agenda as required each year with the general matters being allocated to reviewing the exclusivity agreement and providing paper copies of the same. We are also planning for guest speakers in regards to the agreement.

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