Hakoah: Balkin responds to Singer

March 18, 2015 by J-Wire
Read on for article

David Balkin representing a group offering an alternative plan for Sydney’s Hakoah Club’s White City site has responded to comments made by David Singer, a Hakoah member for many years…but not a member of its Board.

David Balkin responds to comments written by David Singer which appear below

David it is helpful you making your assumptions clear about what is driving your thinking. I understand them as follows:

1.By selling 5000sqm of land Hakoah will be losing control of the remaining 17000sqm of the site
2.Selling title to Bnai Brith in the social/community building comes with no strings attached for either Hakoah or Bnai Brith
3.That Maccabi Tennis gets fewer courts under our plan
4.That the successful gym that operates in the current northern stand building, and is an important income generator for Hakoah, will continue to operate after the soccer field is built and be an ongoing source of income
5.That our plan was given a fair hearing by Hakoah’s members at last year’s AGM and that we should now leave the Board alone
6.That Hakoah members endorsed the Board’s proposal and vision at last year’s AGM
7.Phil Filler’s assertion that the various parts of their plan will be built when the community provides money to do this on Hakoah’s terms is reasonable and will attract the funding required to deliver the Board’s entire vision

The problem, David, is that your first six assumptions are simply incorrect. Your seventh assumption about the robustness of Mr. Filler’s sustainable funding model is deeply flawed. Let me go through them.

1. Why does it follow that because Hakoah sells a piece of land to Maccabi Tennis, a piece of land to a swimming pool operator and a piece of land to its western neighbour does it follow that Hakoah loses sole control of its remaining 17000 sqm of the site. All three pieces of land are around its periphery. The social/community building will be on a separate piece of land and Hakoah will own 77% of it. Our fundamental proposition is that by selling off these bits of land, Hakoah has the opportunity to be economically independent and master of its own destiny within the smaller, but still very substantial, piece of property.

Look at this another way David. If Hakoah had been offered the 17000sqm I am talking about when they bought the site for $10.5m instead of $14.5m, do you think Hakoah would not have bought into the opportunity at White City? The answer David is unequivocally ‘yes’, because everything they wanted to put into the community centre concept could fit in on this smaller piece of land. It is the best recreational land on the site and the best developable land as well.

You should also be aware that when the site was purchased there was no requirement or thought of a full-sized soccerfield. Had that been the raison d’etre for the purchase of the site at the expense of everything else, I strongly doubt whether the Hakoah members would have voted to go ahead.

But more fundamentally David, are you seriously suggesting that Hakoah will be able to retain total and absolute control of everything that happens on this 22000 sqm site when it can only provide one quarter of the capital that its development requires? For example, do you think the people who put up the money for the soccer field are going to let Hakoah do with it as it pleases? Do you think that these investors are going to pay for the replacement costs of its $2m carpet every 6-7 years or will that be a further economic burden for the club? Five years of failed negotiations have proved that Hakoah cannot tell capital how high to jump and when to jump. This Board have found to their great cost and frustration that people with money walk away under these conditions.

2. Bnai Brith and Hakoah are fully aware of the limitations of strata title as far as ensuring that the building remains in community/friendly hands if either party wishes to, or needs to, sell. When we shook hands with Bnai Brith on the commercial aspects of the arrangement, they agreed that they would give Hakoah time to work through this issue with them. For example, both could agree not to encumber the property so a liquidator could never enter the picture. Restraints and conditions for selling the property could be put into the constitutions of both owners to protect each other. We never had the opportunity to explore the full set of mechanisms that could be legally and enforceably binding on both parties in order for the community character of the social/community building to be retained. Hakoah simply walked away from Bnai Brith when they rejected the White City Working Party proposal and the discussion was never had.

3. Unfortunately what was said at the AGM about our plans for Maccabi’s tennis courts, and has been repeated again in one of the President’s recent lengthy emails, is factually incorrect. Not only is this assertion wrong, our plan quite specifically recommends selling Maccabi Tennis the 1000sqm triangle of land between their last three northern courts and the canal; that means 9 courts plus extra land. With this extra land the tennis club can fit 4 courts into the new third row of courts that the club is planning to build, use it for a clubhouse, or use it for little kids coaching. David you probably dont know that the full-sized soccer field does not allow this piece of additional land to be offered to Maccabi Tennis because its northeast corner extends into it. As a fellow Maccabi tennis member, how do you feel about playing on the new ninth court on a Saturday afternoon with hundreds of noisy fans hanging around right outside that court? I have a suspicion that many in the tennis club will have serious reservations.

4. You assert that the very successful and busy gym operating out of the northern stand will continue to operate after the football field is built and will by definition continue to provide an important income stream to Hakoah as the vibrancy and activity that is currently associated with its operation. David this is simply wrong. The entire northern stand and the building beneath it needs to be demolished to fit in the full-sized soccer field. Not only will Hakoah lose the rental from the gym, they will lose the rent from the rest of tenants in that northern building. The rental that the club receives from the yoga operator under the Western stand is very limited by comparison.

5. How can you possibly suggest that our plan was given a fair hearing at last year’s AGM? After requesting in a very nice letter to have our plan and proposal put on the AGM agenda, we were told to take a hike. Instead Phil Filler spend 25 minutes presenting our plan in a completely misleading way. His explanation was riddled with inaccuracies eg. the number of tennis courts, unfounded conspiracy theories eg. that the JCA is trying to steal Hakoah’s land, and gross misrepresentation eg. that our social/community building was a ‘Jewish office Block’ when less than one third of it was for community offices. Incidentally the Board’s grandstand has an almost identical amount of space allocated to communal offices as our does. We could not explain our proposal nor defend it. Who got the microphone was carefully managed. Only questions could be asked. It was a hatchet job, which this AGM will be as well. If that is your definition of being given a fair hearing by the membership then I am disappointed, because I have always regarded you as a reasonable man.

6. You seem to believe that the members at the meeting glowingly endorsed the proposal the Board put up. I felt quite differently about the reaction from the people who were sitting where I was and from the many of the comments that were made from the floor. There were numerous interjections that this plan had nothing in it for members who were not interested in soccer. Twice the Board was asked what this would all cost. Both times the question was not answered. You suggested earlier in J-Wire that Barry Smorgon spoke glowingly about what was presented. He has already rejected this assertion and supports a fair and open debate for the members. He clearly agrees with our proposition that last year’s AGM was not fair or open. So to assert that our plan was given the thumbs down and theirs the thumbs up a year ago is very difficult to justify.

7. Finally we come to Mr. Filler’s comments about funding. You are absolutely correct about what he said. But isn’t this funding philosophy also extremely ingenuous? Putting up fantastic pictures of facilities that the Board says it will deliver to its members, and at the same time pass the responsibility for funding them onto the community, is a confidence trick on the members and the ultimate cop out by a weak Board of Directors. These conclusions were true then as they are today. I even think you know that the logical consequence of his approach is that the soccer field will be built first and nothing else for the broader membership will follow. Incredibly you believe that if you dream hard enough, the money for other facilities that the bulk of Hakoah’s members want, will magically appear some day. You are entitled to dream, but I am far less hopeful. As I said in my last reply to you, the community wont be giving their charity to Hakoah to build shiny new social facilities for their members. Not today, not ever! Our community has far more important priorities which I am sure you will agree with. Long before Mashiach comes, the club will have gone bankrupt because a soccerfield alone will not generate sufficient income for Hakoah to be economically viable.

So David, if Hakoah has not lost control of its smaller piece of land or its community/social building, has an agreement with Bnai Brith that ensures the community/social building remains in communal hands, that Maccabi Tennis is substantially better off under our plan, and that Hakoah, because of its land sale and strata sale have the capital to not only build social facilities for its members but also to provide the income stream it requires to remain solvent, have we not met all your conditions for supporting our plan? Surely, David, our plan gives Hakoah’s long suffering members a place to socialize and to enjoy with their families in a unique park like environment which is so fundamentally different from Hall Street? Why would a full sized soccerfield bring more dynamism, youth participation and attraction than our fantastic facilities would? Why do you believe that Hakoah members should have this social and recreational opportunity and soccer for our under-12s sacrificed for a full sized soccer field which will be used by no more than a few hundred soccer players most of whom are not Hakoah members? How can you exchange the certainty that our plan provides for members’ social facilities with your and the current Board’s dream that they may be built in the distant future with money that, even you must agree, is highly unlikely to be forthcoming from the community? Finally how can you endorse a plan that will leave Hakoah economically unviable from the moment the full-size soccer field is built? Why wont you support an EGM to debate whether Hakoah at White City should become a Jewish sporting centre dominated by soccer and futsal versus a resort style community centre which balances recreation, social activity, communal activity and sport including kids soccer; these are the true differences between the two plans which members need to fully understand? Surely, the members have the right to make this choice rather than 7 Directors and a few influential former club leaders who are passionate followers and promoters of soccer and, who incidentally, supported and led Hakoah’s exit from soccer nearly 30 years ago?

David Singer wrote in response to a comment written by Andrew Boyarksy:

You state:
“The board has been willing it for the last five years – and its still dreaming.

Your blind confidence in their ability to actually deliver anything is quite perplexing. Their record speaks for itself”

Weren’t you a member of that same Board for four of those years?

Since your resignation the Board has progressed its plans to the point of lodging a DA. Why would you be seeking to have them torn up at this late stage?

You bemoan the fact that there is no development expertise left on the Board. It is indeed a pity that you chose to resign and leave the Board in that situation.

The Board has reported to members that PAYCE has been appointed as Project Manager and AECOM as Principal Consultant. Their impressive CV’s were set out in one of the letters you no doubt received.

No doubt their expertise is well known to you anyway

You say the site is gathering dust. That is not correct. As I have pointed out it is a hive of activity every day with tennis, yoga and the gym very busy and Magen David Adom and Betar being located on site.

My analysis of what will happen if part of the building is strata’d is correct. A strata Title building with two owners represented on the Body Corporate is not the same as one owner in full control of the building.

Now you tell us you have other well known Jewish community groups who will be buying 5000 sq metres of the site. Who are they and do they have any sporting and recreational activities as part of their focus?

Betar and the yoga centre are housed in a different building to the gym – a fact of which you are apparently unaware.

There was open debate at the two meetings last year when your meeting drew about 50 people and the AGM attracted about 250.

Going over the competing plans once again seems pointless.

The two visions have been made very clear – the Board’s to retain the site intact and your plans to break it up and contain Hakoah and its activities within 70% of the site.

Are you saying Danny Hochberg did not endorse the plans now that a full size soccer field was included and that his remarks were not supported by Barry Smorgon?

Certainly Barry raised questions as to the financials which obviously are needed to be satisfied if the Board’s plan is to work.That is for the Board to determine and re-assure the members.

As Phil Filler stated at the AGM – the Board only intends to proceed in stages as the funding is secured. That is a fairly straight forward and responsible statement to make. No money – no build.

The fact that funding has been obtained for the soccer field ensures a major part of the project can be commenced.

Your plans seem to call for a total demolition and reconstruction in one go. Is this correct and how long do you estimate it will take? Will such reconstruction take place in concert with buildings to be erected by the other communal organisations on the land they are purchasing? Will Hakoah have any say in their size and design?

I am glad to see you confirm that there is an extra tennis court in your plan. Why did you not correct Phil at the last AGM when he said it was not included?

Correct me if I am wrong – but hasn’t the Board always sought to retain White City in Hakoah’s absolute ownership since you were on the Board -having turned down an approach from Double Bay Bowling Club which wanted ownership of its proposed site?

Shouldn’t the Board be allowed to put in the DA – backed by its consultants and architects – to see if this is still a possibility?

The communal centre vision may have to be cut back but the sporting, social and recreation vision that Hakoah in concert with Maccabi would bring to the community must surely be worth pursuing.

My suggestion:
Let the Board lodge their DA. If their plans are knocked back – as you confidently predict – then the Board should proceed on your plans for breaking up the site. There will then be no option. At the moment there is.

Get together guys and shake hands on that deal and avoid the nasty confrontation that is surely developing if you both don’t retreat from your current positions.

 

On March 16, Davis Singer responded to David Balkin:

 

David

Firstly let me thank you for your very honest and detailed reply.

I note that in response to my questions you have given the following responses:

1. Your group would sell 800 sq metres to B’Nai Brith for $5 million and give it strata title. Such sale is conditional on other communal organizations moving to White City.

2. You estimate that you will need to sell approximately a further 5000sqm, of the 22000sqm Hakoah currently owns, to generate $4-5m of capital.

That to me David means that Hakoah will lose a quarter of its present site to persons as yet unidentified by you – as well as present control of the remainder of its asset – becoming instead a member of a Body Corporate that will make all future decisions in relation to what remains of White City.

You also do not mention what restrictions – if any – Hakoah would place on B’Nai Brith selling its strata in the future – and whether B’Nai Brith has accepted them.

To me these sales are too big a price for Hakoah members to pay and are decisions I cannot endorse as being in the best interests of Hakoah and its members.

You ask:

“David, it would be helpful if you could ask the current Board to provide one of those detailed reports to members that explain how they plan to retain the whole site, fund their vision and remain economically viable.”

In fact this was made public by Phil Filler at the AGM last year when he stated that plan of the present Board was predicated on Hakoah not breaking up the site or Hakoah’s control of the site and called for this to be achieved by only proceeding to build in stages when the funding had been received to allow each stage to be achieved.

Phil announced at the AGM:
“There is sufficient space to include a full size football field a consortium is prepared to pay for. We must never forget our initial reason for existence was to support and encourage the sport of football. Beyond that, and looking into the demographics within the Hakoah Maccabi network, there are over 1,500 boys and girls, men and women aged from six to sixty who would utilise this facility.”

I guess this would be stage 1 – a great start that would see 1500 people using the facilities where they presently do not.

Meantime Maccabi Tennis would be able to build a ninth court (not provided in your plans) and the current gym and yoga centre would continue to operate as present whilst Magen David Adom and Betar would continue to operate under their existing leases.

I can assure you that when I go to play tennis at 7 am on a Thursday the parking area is full and the activity going on at White City at that time is something to behold.

Sure the fancy buildings, swimming pools, pre-school and indoor stadiums will take time.

These would come in stages- as Phil explained – when funding became available from people who wanted to take up the concessions available.

To me this is an infinitely better decision than compromising the site by selling a large chunk of it and also losing control over what is left.

If that means B’Nai Brith walks away that would be a great pity – but the price Hakoah is being asked to pay for their coming to White City does not justify the end.

David – you ask another question:

“While you are at it, a second report explaining why seven Directors rather than 6500 members, is the right and fair way to make fundamental decisions about the future of our club, would be most appreciated.”

Your request is – with respect – a little mischievous.

12 months ago the issues were fully raised in the Jewish press in an expensive advertising campaign by your group and the Board. This managed to bring about 50 members to view your plans and about 250 members to the AGM that followed when the Board presented its plans.

Going through the same exercise again now is not really in the interests of Hakoah or its members.

Maccabi NSW and Maccabi Australia’s endorsment of the Board plans at last year’s AGM – giving Maccabi tennis an extra tennis court and Maccabi Soccer access to a full size football oval – swayed it for me.

Accept the decision of twelve months ago and support the Board in lodging their DA.

By all means – have a fall back plan – but allow the Board to proceed to try and implement its vision and retain 100% ownership of Hakoah’s asset.

If you will it – it is no dream.

 

Comments

2 Responses to “Hakoah: Balkin responds to Singer”
  1. Bernhard Kirschner says:

    Mr Balkin, I believe that your group pursuing its plans have generating additional interest in the future of Hakoah.
    However I was taught as a child that if I tried to take a ball from another child that was not mine, even from one who refused to share, even for the best of intentions I was punished because it was wrong. Surely taking part of a football field is even worse.
    I therefor reject any plan that diminishes Hakoah and its association with football, even if you feel and are even if you are right that the community deserves it.

    I think that it is wonderful to see such passion being generated by the different Hakoah club plans.
    Before this contention many were saying “Where the hell is White City”, and “Why would I want to go there?”
    Now many more are involved.
    Let’s ensure that this passion and enthusiasm can be channeled to create a magnificent club.

    However both groups have made a gross underestimation about the generosity of our community.
    Sport and recreation are already huge, and in the future will be gigantic.
    In a society where $30 million homes are swapped without a headline, you are concerned that you cannot raise $10 million or even $20 million for a dream!
    Hakoah was originally a football club, inspired and built by immigrants who were struggling to make ends meet, and look what they did?
    Were they bolder than the present generation?
    To the board I say build and get on with it now, and if you can’t raise the cash, borrow and borrow on the land, you can always sell some land later if needed, but you can never buy it back. If the club cannot succeed as a sporting club, then and only then will it lose its playing field.
    When you succeed, then find a way to bring community offices to the site.

  2. david singer says:

    David

    I don’t think it will really help if I post a long response pointing out the errors contained in your above post.

    Rather let us all move positively ahead.

    You no doubt have now seen the letter from Frank Lowy which has been published after your above response was published.

    I believe you should heed Frank’s advice and proceed with the following suggestion that I made to Andrew Boyarsky a few days ago:

    My suggestion:
    Let the Board lodge their DA. If their plans are knocked back – as you confidently predict – then the Board should proceed on your plans for breaking up the site. There will then be no option. At the moment there is.

    Get together guys and shake hands on that deal and avoid the nasty confrontation that is surely developing if you both don’t retreat from your current positions.

    If you won’t listen to me – then I hope you will now listen to Frank’s sound and timely advice.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

    Rules on posting comments