Jeff McCloy is many things – ambitious, outspoken, generous, passionate, a little eccentric and determined to make Newcastle a better place to live.
When you take a tour around this city that is undergoing significant change and development, you can be forgiven for thinking much of it may just be a part of McCloy’s legacy.
Despite the apparent success and controversy surrounding his every move - largely created by the media, no-one can deny that McCloy has the courage of his convictions, a passion for this city that is fast coming to life and the money to make it happen. But Jeff takes none of his success for granted.
"My grandfather Francis McCloy was a builder and father to 11 children, survived the depression, ran his own chooks, fished in Lake Munmorah and too proud to accept charity or be on the dole" says Jeff.
Similarly, the next generation of the McCloy clan would also stubbornly resist the boom and busts of the building industry with money being a constant cause of family arguments and Jeff’s father having to head out each day in search of work.
A photograph of a small cottage in Belmont, hanging in the McCloy Group reception area, is a daily reminder of where he’s been, and the enviable list of assets and development projects is a clear indication of where he wants to go.
"Think Big" – that’s the title of a framed article hanging on the wall in his office alongside the proudly displayed collection of cartoon drawings depicting Jeff’s often controversial political and business career created by editorial cartoonist Peter Lewis.
Having left Belmont High 43 years ago for Newcastle University and the civil engineering degree that took him into the Sydney high-rise construction game via a brief stint with Lend Lease, Jeff returned to Belmont in the late 1970s to work for and eventually run D.F. McCloy, the building company founded by his father, Don.
Throughout the 1980’s and ‘90s, the business delivered John Hunter Hospital, Green Point residential development, Jewells Tavern and shopping centre and the Mattara Hotel.
For the McCloy’s, their first break came in the late 1980s when the then Belmont-based business tendered for the construction of the proposed John Hunter Hospital campus and won.
Encouraged by the John Hunter success, the company set its sights on the Sydney market and subsequently lost a great deal of money in the process. As a result, Jeff decided on a change in direction, switching from construction to property development and putting the focus of operations on Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
"I learned some valuable early lessons back then and also from my father," said Jeff.
"Think big and go in expecting the best but also know the importance of being able to manage the worst" says Jeff. "Just as important is the need to never be afraid to make decisions. If you fail, own it, fix it and try again."
From 2006 to 2008, McCloy made a number of inner-city Newcastle acquisitions - purchasing the Blackwoods property in Wickham and the former Hunter Water headquarters on Hunter and King Streets.
McCloy also purchased and subsequently redeveloped the former Churchill’s site, the former Toymaster’s building and the rambling 1860’s Lucky Country Hotel on Hunter Street now renamed the Lucky Hotel. The $6m redevelopment which was completed in August 2014 included the full restoration of the external façade and brand new fit-out including a restaurant, central bar, alfresco gaming room, hotel reception and 28 boutique suites across two levels.
McCloy then spent a small fortune renovating the historic Egmont House, later selling the Church Street property in November 2014 after he quit City Hall. In 2009, he bought a half-share in the former NIB offices, followed in 2014 by two properties next to The Lucky.
"I like getting hold of old and dilapidated buildings that no one sees any value in and turning them into a useful asset" says Jeff. "At the end of the day – the city’s landscape has been improved which is really what we are all about."
Today the McCloy Group’s commercial assets include the City Exchange and Telstra Civic – both of which are 100% occupied, reflecting the current optimism for the ongoing revitalisation of the Newcastle CBD.
The residential division has a fast growing number of residential projects with 8 active communities totalling 3,591 home-sites located at Cameron Park, Teralba, Rutherford, Muswellbrook, Tamworth and Armidale. The Group also expanded into Port Stephens for the first time with the launch of two new residential projects, Potters Lane in Raymond Terrace and The Bower in Medowie.
A further 6 residential projects are planned for future development making a total of 2,076 home sites.
On the Leisure side of the business is the Mystic Tide – a long range expedition style yacht that is berthed in Queensland and can accommodate 8 guests and has a range of 3000 nautical miles.
Of course, it’s not all beer and skittles – the risks are high, and the bureaucratic red tape surrounding development applications can be frustrating as the McCloy Group found with the purchase of the NIB site on Hunter Street. After trying every avenue and almost $400,000 spent, the McCloy Group walked away from the $12 million development proposal and sold the property.
Never-the-less, McCloy is bullish about the future of Newcastle with the CBD currently undergoing a much-needed transformation after more than 30 years of neglect.
"My vision is for Newcastle to become the preferred and even trendy place to live and visit with cruise ships, national and international sports events and a growing number of tourist attractions. I see increased investment, development and people coming to our City as well as a growing cultural diversity.
"All the signs are there to indicate that this trend is only going to continue with developments that include the new Law Courts and the new University Campus, the much needed increase in inner city residential development, the coastal revitalisation and Bathers Way project, the Light Rail project (which is now in the advanced planning stage), the development of a permanent cruise terminal and the V8 Supercars 500 championships planned for late 2017."
After almost fifty years in the building and property development game that made, ended and then re-made his family fortune, McCloy has one eye on retirement and the other overseeing the interests of the McCloy Group as Chairman of the business. His generosity, guidance and support of charities, education and welfare groups, medical research, sports teams and clubs is also well recognised.