News Report by Frances Devlin-Glass
A meeting of members was convened on 30 July to discuss the findings of a subcommittee charged with investigating how the Club should operate into the future. Chaired by Maurice Hanrahan, other members of the subcommittee included Veronica O’Sullivan, Francie Collins, Andrew Perry and Brian Shanahan. Their brief was to explore the options of
- remaining in the present site and refurbishing it;
- entering negotiations with a new developer;
- or relocating in the CBD.
A summary of their findings was:
STAYING: The key findings were that the Club, operating in its present form, was not profitable, and therefore lenders of the $1m-$2m needed for a refurbishment would be hard to find. The ageing infrastructure of the Club and the need for extensive refurbishment were seen to be key factors. What the Club might get for $1 or $2m had not yet been costed, because of the impediment perceived in finding a lender. New ways of operating, if the Club stays in its very valuable location on 3 street frontages (current valuation was in the order of $13.5m, but this is not for building, but air rights) seem imperative.
It seemed clear to members that the Club was a valuable asset, but suggestions about how to operate better seemed to me to be largely pie-in-the-sky (‘get more members’; ‘reach out to younger ones by giving them free beer vouchers’). The pokies apparently keep the club afloat, but because of the run-down building, their location at the back of the building and on two levels, they earn less than comparable inner city venues. Relocation to the street frontage would cost $4.77m, according to a quantity surveyor.
Where is the talk of asking younger generation what they want in a club? Where is the talk of doing real culture? Apparently, a business plan, looking critically at the many facets of the Club, has been mooted for years, but action has stalled on that. That too seems like a good idea.
REDEVELOPING: The lesson of the last tangle with developers seems to have been learnt. The developer got cold feet and 4 floors of Club space became 4 half-floors. If the redevelopment option is to be pursued, it will be with a hand-chosen smaller group rather than a general call for expressions of interest. But it is costly: $50,000- $80.000 for the preliminary work. The Greek Club in Lonsdale St. has apparently had a good experience of redeveloping the site they owned, and moves are afoot to talk with them.
RELOCATION: The Club could swap with a developer, or with the sale of the existing building buy a small building or access to floors in an existing building. The meeting was uncertain that they would get as good a location, and whether or not if they went into a building with a similar heritage overlay as the current one, they would be able to afford refurbishment and maintenance.
The energy of the meeting seemed to go into discussing option 1. There was grave disquiet in the meeting about the ageing population of members, and declining numbers, and shortage of people in the younger and middle generations. The meeting seemed focussed on membership, and the Rules Committee hopes to address that with a new structure of fees. That may help, but there seem to be some underlying issues to be addressed.
Maybe a back-to-basics discussion about what a Club is and does in the modern world would be helpful? In the past, Clubs built identity. Identity is perhaps less an issue in a globalising world, so is it still something to be fostered at the Celtic Club? Clubs were also useful to circumvent liquor laws which have subsequently changed utterly. I wondered why I heard so little talk of cultural activities at the Club at this meeting? Why, for instance, is it not the focus of discussions of Irish politics, history, film, detective fiction, literature, theatre? There’s lots happening around Melbourne, but little at the Celtic Club.
The Committee’s conclusions made for grim hearing/reading, but were presented in an open and collaborative way by the Chair, Maurice Hanrahan. As a member I appreciated this transparent way of doing business.
Frances is on the Tinteán editorial board.