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Upset Pines members demand city club membership or compensation

Members allege club owner misrepresented members when he revealed the redevelopment plans

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Mr Kwee said for the decade that he had been operating The Pines, it had been "bleeding losses".

Singapore

CLOSE to 90 upset members of The Pines club have made good on their earlier threat to initiate legal action against club owner Peter Kwee, a prominent car and property businessman.

According to a letter of demand sent by law firm Derrick Wong & Lim BC LLP, seen by The Business Times, 87 members made a series of demands, one of which was for Mr Kwee to procure back one of the two hotels built by Oxley along Stevens Road and convert it into the club premises promised to them in March 2013.

Another option was to procure for each member an "equivalent membership" in a city and country club near Stevens Road for a term at least equivalent to the remaining membership term that each member has left. This clearly has constraints because of the limited choices of nearby clubs.

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The Tanglin Club, whose membership fee costs about S$50,000, has a waiting list of about 10 years. Nearby, the American Club, costs S$24,375 for American and Canadian citizens, while Singaporeans can only apply for annual term membership at about S$7,290 each year. The Raffles Town Club, which sits on a government lease that expires in 2026, has stopped selling memberships, although second-hand memberships are available in the market.

Failing both of these options, the members demanded "fair compensation" in the region of about S$44,000 to S$147,000 for members with five to 20 remaining membership years, respectively.

The whole hoo-ha started when The Pines management promised to build new facilities for the members when it closed the club for renovation in 2013. The letter of demand detailed a meeting in August 2012 when a model of the planned redevelopment, comprising a multi-storey clubhouse with recreational facilities, ballroom, meeting rooms, gymnasium, a rooftop swimming pool, and a new hotel, was shown to members.

Subsequently, the club owner sold a conditional option to property developer Oxley Holdings on March 15, 2013 for the sale of the entire land parcel at 30 Stevens Road for a lease of 103 years at S$318 million.

Members thus construed this to mean that Mr Kwee had misrepresented to the members at the August 2012 meeting when he shared about the redevelopment plans.

"If the club owner had considered the rights and the interests of the club members, it could have been transparent from the outset and start negotiating with the members on an early settlement that would have ameliorated and minimised members' losses and inconveniences, as well as the emotional angst of waiting vainly . . ." they said in the letter.

Mr Kwee has since offered The Pines members membership in the Laguna National Golf and Country Club and its upcoming Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore resort which will open near Changi Airport in the second quarter of 2019.

Mr Kwee maintained that he has not misrepresented about the club's redevelopment plans to members at the 2012 meeting. He said he had also made a good offer to members, as the new membership would include rights to use the golf range at Laguna - a facility The Pines didn't have.

"Within two years, they can also sell the membership in the open market, and the usual transfer and administrative fee will be waived. Dusit Thani will be a brand new building, compared to The Pines which is more than 30 years old and requires a lot of repair and maintenance."

He also said for the decade that he had been operating The Pines, it had been "bleeding losses". It was a "commercial decision" to sell the plot of land to Oxley in hope of optimising its land use. But the numerous constraints that came with developing the two hotels on the site, such as car park requirements and the limited space left for the club to operate, meant that he could not continue running The Pines at the same location.

He also disagreed with the calculation method of the compensation demanded, saying this was not a members-owned club but a proprietary club, so the calculation of any compensation should not be based on the valuation of the real estate transacted, or that of the plot of land.