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West HQ’s CEO Richard Errington. West HQ’s CEO Richard Errington. Featured
09 September 2021 Posted by 

WEST HQ - DEVELOPMENT OF A DREAM

CEO reflects on the venue's evolution
THINKING BIG | JADE HOBMAN 
IF you had the choice to invest $18M or $100M of your business capital into a bold new venture, rife with critics, what would be your pick?
West HQ’s CEO Richard Errington chose the latter, and hasn’t looked back, citing the recreation hub’s Sydney Coliseum as being a much-needed entertainment boon.
 
“We have built a theatre for the people of Western Sydney, who would have never gone to the arts, never gone to the city to see a live production, and we have given that opportunity with not one cent of government money, for such a big community,” Mr Errington said.  
 
Before the theatre idea was conceived, Mr Errington and the management at the formerly named Rooty Hill RSL, had already taken the view that the club needed to evolve into something bigger. 
 
A recent IBISWorld market research report said RSL clubs have faced significant challenges, even within the last five years - from regulators, bars, pubs, online sports betting companies, and declining alcohol consumption.  
 
“If we just remained a small suburban licenced club we were going to become irrelevant to future community needs,” Mr Errington said.  “And we knew entertainment would be relevant to all ages, and all nationalities.”
 
Barangaroo
 
So a ‘Barangaroo of Western Sydney’ dream started with a premise of what the community needed, in a meeting at the Rooty Hill RSL in 2012. 
 
The team had been inspired by the former disused container terminal, turned top eatery, and arts hub, Barangaroo on the western waterfront of Sydney’s CBD.  
 
Mr Errington said they were impressed about how quickly it transitioned into the go-to destination it has been.
 
And so they wanted to do the same revamp for the west, adding extensive key services to their business in Rooty Hill, including brand restaurants typically found at Barangaroo - plus entertainment.  
 
So from what started out as an $18M, 1000-seat entertainment expansion idea eventually extended into a $100M, 2000-seat plan, as the club realised, via talks with industry insiders, how much Western Sydney lacked a large entertainment area to that scale. 
 
“We found that west of the Anzac bridge, there was nothing that had 2000 seats, excluding Homebush,” Mr Errington said.  
 
“The ability to have things like opera, Sydney symphony, Australian Ballet, musical theatre, bands – the design and our vision expanded and grew.”
 
Construction of the theatre and the Barangaroo-inspired restaurants was complete by the end of 2019, with the new theatre offering a vast range of entertainment, including space for large banquets and corporate events.  
 
Criticism
 
Now all these activities at the club site were not going by unnoticed. The entertainment industry was enthusiastic with hope, but the plans also faced a large degree of scepticism.
 
Mr Errington said opposition, and uncertainty arose from a range of groups: media, promoters, and other licensed clubs.
 
“We were ridiculed by the industry … there were doubters, who said the people of Western Sydney wouldn't pay the amount of money to go to the theatre,” Mr Errington said. 
 
“We had to believe that there was a growing population in Western Sydney, who didn’t want to travel into the city.” 
 
“We identified that if we built this, no one in the west would compete or be able to match it, that we would have the ability to become the ultimate entertainment destination.”
 
In 2017 a media report said the project was funded by poker machines, highlighting the social cost for problem gamblers. Mr Errington told the Sydney Morning Herald that the club would eventually dilute revenue away from poker machines - something he says they were on track to doing before the pandemic hit. 
 
“Our aim, through building and diversifying, was taking our reliance off gambling, away from poker machines.  We achieved that in the first month - but then we were disrupted with Covid,” Mr Errington said.  
 
“Because we were increasing our revenue in more entertainment space, gambling became less of a relevance to our business model.”
 
The pandemic
 
When Covid hit in 2020 the West HQ venue went from being a bustling hub - with four million visitors annually, to a ghost town - and the theatre was closed for six months. 
 
Then after reopening, the business started to slowly recover, and they were managing up to a 60 percent recovery. Now that has been thwarted again with the current lockdown affecting Greater Sydney, now in its seventh week. 
 
“We have lost profitability to reinvest, because we have had to call on our reserves to keep us liquid,” Mr Errington said.  “It has put our plans back two years, and affected us financially, but because we are large and diverse, we are able to weather the storm.”
 
Despite the misgivings, there are still plans and hopes for future expansion at West HQ, with an idea for a large-scale indoor family entertainment, and plans for a 300-room Pullman Hotel, in preparation for the airport opening at Badgerys Creek. 


editor

Publisher
Michael Walls
michael@accessnews.com.au
0407 783 413

Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) covers the business and community issues of the Greater Western Sydney region of Australia. WSBA is the popular media source for connecting with the pulse of the region and tapping into it's vast opportunities and networks.