IT HAS taken a foreigner, in this case a German domiciled in Hong Kong, to shake up the notoriously stuffy and exclusive London private club scene.
Construction started last week on the Capital Club, located in the City of London. The club is being developed by the International Club Company (ICC) of Hong Kong, founded in 1980 by Dieter Klostermann, a former hotel general manager and hotel development expert.
The club is being created out of the former Gresham Club, which was closed by its members in 1991, and was bought by ICC in January 1993 from an insurance company. The club is the first of a planned five related facilities in London.
In London last week, Mr Klostermann told Caterer he was also negotiating to buy the London St James' Club from Queens Moat Houses.
"We put in a bid that we think is reasonable. Queens Moat is also anxious to sell the club. We are looking for a club that has a number of hotel bedrooms for business traffic into London.," he said.
This year, ICC will open five new clubs including the London property and two golf clubs in China. It currently owns and operates 12 clubs in the Far East and expects to have 21 open by next year. Mr Klostermann would like to have about 50 owned and operated clubs by 2000.
As well as a residential club such as the St James', ICC would like a West End club, and a golf and country club within Greater London.
Mr Klostermann described the Capital Club as completely different from the traditional British club.
"We combine the idea of a British club with modern management practices from proprietary clubs in the USA. We have budgets, marketing of membership and professional management, and we operate to make a profit."
He said busy City people joined clubs to enjoy the facilities rather than spend time on committees. The club would also appeal to international corporate staff based in London.
Another key difference with the club is that it will be for both men and women and membership fees automatically include the member's spouse.
The Capital Club will have a strong food and beverage operation with menus changing frequently and reflecting members' tastes.
Mr Klostermann said there was a distinction between a modern club and a hotel or traditional club. His clubs hosted social events, organised business forums and encouraged business networking.
Within the 14,000sq ft building, the Capital Club will have a brasserie on the lower ground floor, lounge with carvery and light meals on the ground floor, a main dining room similar to the Savoy Grill Room on the first floor, an 85-seat function room on the second floor, small private dining rooms on the third and a boardroom on the fourth.
The total cost of the project is £5m including the acquisition of the freehold building. It is not expensive compared to the company's Tokyo club which cost US$30m (£20m) to build and has a joining fee of US$45,000 (£30,000).
But neither is the project cheap as it involves structural work and restoration of the Grade II-listed building.
The London project is fully funded by the Hong Kong company and its bankers. Joining fees of £1,000 will be used to eventually retire loans on the project. The company has raised US$270m (£180m) in joining fees in the past 10 years, most of which was used to pay back loans.
ICC has sent over from Hong Kong a project team to oversee the construction and to help newly appointed general manager Michael Longshaw open the club. Construction is scheduled to finish in July and the opening is set for 25 September.