If you build it he will come

March 26, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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This line from the movie “Field of Dreams” more than applies to the board of Sydney’s Hakoah Club who like the American farmer who wanted to build a baseball field also have a vision…to develop their White City property into a world-class sporting and social facility for the city’s Jewish community.

David Balkin

David Balkin

Before the Annual General Meeting of the Hakoah Club, the White City Working Party held a meeting to alert Hakoah members of the vision it had for the Club. J-Wire’s directors are not members of Hakoah and were denied admission to both meetings but we did have a reporter present at both.

They heard community identity David Balkin say that some land sales would be essential for their plan to be financially viable and that overall control of the premium site which formerly housed NSW’s main tennis arena and courts, would have to be shared by Hakoah, Sydney Grammar School and B’nai B’rith. Balkin added that the Group’s planned development would cost between $40 and $50 million and that $25-$30 million would have to be raised. He said that the development would be staged with Community and social facilities being built first. he indicated that JCA would move there and that Hakoah would become “a sustainable landlord” enabling it to develop the rest of the site as funds became available. Balkin told J-Wire that 80 members had signed in to the WCWP meeting.

Balkin was asked what part of the development would benefit Hakoah. He indicated the football field and premises within the community building.

The Hakoah Club had rejected a proposal from the WCWP without any explanation.

The club itself hosted the AGM which our reporter tells us was attended by over 250 members.

The Board announce from the beginning that no photography was to be allowed.
Outgoing president Phil Filler presented an entirely different vision of a sporting social and recreational facility for young and old in what he described as ” a never to be repeated opportunity”

He was not prepared to have that primary aim sacrificed at any cost.

hakoah-400He said the Hakoah Board had rejected Working Party proposal for four reasons:

1. Their priority was to build “a Jewish office block”
2. The financial model was fundamentally flawed.
3. Hakoah would have to hand over its power over the site.
4. The plan was to be accepted by Hakoah without amendment.

The board found the WP plans lacked
1. Adequate sporting facilities
2. No club room
3. No lounge area
4.  No bar

Filler described the development a “Jewish office block without Hakoah”.

Phil Filler    Photo: Henry Benjamin

Phil Filler Photo: Henry Benjamin

He told the meeting that the three quarter sized soccer field proposed by the WCWP was completely useless and that Hakoah had found a consortium that would finance the construction of a full field.

He added that three of the seven signatories supporting the WCWP plan were not members of Hakoah and that two had become members only after the sale of the Club’s former property in Hall St, Bondi.

Filler described the plan as an attempt to wrest control of the site from Hakoah.

Claiming that lack of communal support had led to closure of Hall St premises, he bemoaned the fact that only eight of the 23 presidents of JCA  constituent organisations were members of Hakoah.

Filler made it very clear that the site does not belong to the community and the Board’s primary and legal responsibility was to its members.

He then announced that a long term vision and master plan had been prepared by its architect Michael Mandel would make a presentation to the members.

The plans offered commercial opportunities but would not compromise the Board’s vision

It delivered an extra court for Maccabi, an acquaintance centre, full sized football field that 1500 people aged 6- 60 could use, a multiple purpose sports centre, a club house, offices and meeting rooms, a function room and kosher kitchen and a child are centre for 100 children.

Filler said that it could be built in stages as the money becomes available but there needed to be a willingness by the community not only to participate but to pay for it.

Filler has retired as president, a position he has held for over ten years. However he has told J-Wire that he would be devoting his time and energy to seeing the dreams for the site become a reality, urging communal organisations to become involved.

A member told J-Wire: “Mandel’s presentation and his plans that he showed to the Members were both impressive.”

Club solicitor Carl Reid  announced he had resigned saying the chances of the plan coming to fruition were “zero”

hakoah-Mandel said that the plan which maintained the site as an open community sporting centre which would treat heritage items sympathetically would have to go through the planning processes.

Maccabi’s Danny Hochberg expressed his support for the plan now that it incorporated a full soccer field saying that Maccabi would be fully behind the proposal. Chairman of Maccabi Australia Barry Smorgon supported Hochberg’s statement describing “the close relationship that exists between Macabbi NSW & Hakoah”. Smorgon added that he declined to offer an opinion on the plan but questioned the “glaring gap in the presentation regarding funding ,operating cost& income generation”.

Differences of opinion regarding the JCA and it’s role were expressed by JCA president Peter Phillipson and answered by Phil Filler. Both were working in the interests of the community and each urged the need to move forward positively. Barry Smorgon told J-Wire: “I also stated, that as a life Governor of JCA,  the disparaging comments directed at JCA were inappropriate and I took exception to them.”

Barry

The Hakoah Club in Bondi was sold in 2007 but facilities remained available to its membership believed to number around 6,500 until 2009 when the doors closed for the last time.

New president George Farkas told J-Wire: “The Board determined not to admit new members after the closure of Hall St, as it was of the view that it wasn’t appropriate to accept membership fees when no members’ facilities were being provided. Moving forward, we welcome an opportunity to discuss  working together with any communal organisation.”

Phil Filler told J-Wire: “This club should be for the benefit of the whole community, especially the youth.”

J-Wire reproduces Phil Filler’s address to the membership in full:

On behalf of the board I would like to welcome you all here tonight to the Annual General Meeting of Hakoah Club. During my Presidency, your Board has worked tirelessly and has been dedicated to maximising this once in a life time opportunity to realise our dream of making Hakoah White City a sporting, social and recreational facility that we can all be proud of.

George Farkas

George Farkas

Tonight I am delighted to present to you our vision for the future of White City which is a culmination of a thorough consultative process involving communal and sporting organisations, professional advisers and many others.

As part of my presentation you, the members, will be shown a graphic presentation of the master plan of what we can deliver if we are allowed to work constructively together in harmony, and if obstacles are not deliberately placed in our path.

You will recall in 2007 a very difficult decision was made to sell our Hall Street premises due to the fact the club was haemorrhaging and our ongoing financial viability was threatened.  This brave decision was made so the Club could become more relevant to its current and future members.

I am sure you will all agree a common complaint at Hall Street was “why don’t my children or my grandchildren want to come to the Club? What can we do to attract the youth?”

Very simply, the preservation of our capital by selling the Hall Street premises allowed us to pursue venues to resolve these issues. Within seven months of moving out of Hall Street and after much negotiation, we were able to secure what everyone agreed was an amazing site – a once in a life time, indeed never to be repeated opportunity, to acquire a vast area of land within our heartland, capable of providing first and foremost sporting, social and recreational facilities for our youth.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is why we bought White City and why we are dedicated to delivering that vision for our members and the broader community. We are not prepared to have that primary aim sacrificed. Let me emphasise that again. We are not prepared to have our primary aim of providing our youth with sporting, social and recreational facilities sacrificed at any cost.

Before I provide further details on our proposal for Hakoah White City, I am compelled by circumstances beyond my control to address the unfortunate and extremely disappointing public campaign being waged against us and address a few questions it has raised.

The first question is why did the Board reject the JCA Appointees or White City Working Party proposal?

The answer is long and complicated but very important for all of you to understand the following five points. I am currently going to be very restrained in what I say, in the interests of not damaging any communal organisation.

The JCA Appointees and WCWP proposal was rejected for the following reasons:

1.  Their priority was to build primarily a Jewish office block for the purpose of relocating communal offices from Darlinghurst, at the expense of the sporting, social and recreational facilities for our youth.

2.  The financial model was fundamentally flawed and in order to fund that office block, Hakoah was required to sell over $7 million worth of its assets, including large parts of White City, thereby further jeopardising the Hakoah vision.

3.  The Hakoah Club was to be abolished.

4.  The Board was required to hand over all its powers regarding White City to the JCA Appointees, including the power to deal with any of Hakoah‘s assets as it saw fit. Realistically this is an attempt to takeover Hakoah’s $16M White City asset without paying for it.

5.  An ultimatum was put that the Board had to accept all of the JCA’s appointees’ conditions unreservedly; otherwise the JCA appointees would not be involved in assisting the development of White City.

 

I would now like to elaborate further on some of the specifics.

The working party involving JCA appointees was established, as it was purported the JCA appointees could:

(A)     convince communal organisations to sell their properties and relocate to WC, which it failed to do;   and

(B)      assist in raising money from individuals within the community, which it also failed to do.

The JCA Appointees admitted in their ultimate proposal it was impossible to secure donations for the relocation of Jewish offices which was the JCA appointees’ first priority.

It is very clear the JCA appointee’s plan was and still is to take control of Hakoah’s assets to enable the funding of an office block to allow it to relocate its communal offices from Darlinghurst to here. This was at the expense of the sporting facilities, relegated to later stages, if at all.

In their plan there was not going to be a Hakoah Club at all with members.  There was to be no club room, no lounge area, no club bar. Whilst Stage 1 did include a small food offering, it was still primarily a Jewish office block, without a Hakoah Club.

The only organisation prepared to possibly relocate to White City and inject capital was B’nai B’rith, whose strata title conditions were completely unacceptable to Academy BJE, whose President was on the Working Party and who strongly indicated his organisation would have no part of such an arrangement.

National Council of Jewish Women was the only other organisation with a property of sufficient worth to relocate and inject capital into White City.  When approached by the President of the JCA, the Council declined to relocate anywhere.

That left a huge shortfall in the JCA appointees’ capital model.  Therefore, in order to fund that essentially Jewish office block to be known as the Community Building, their model required Hakoah to sell at least $7M worth of Hakoah’s assets, including slabs of White City. As I said earlier, this would have severely compromised the land available for the sporting facilities. Hakoah did not buy White City primarily for Jewish offices. Communal organisations are welcome to relocate to White City, but not at the expense of the sporting facilities for our youth.

The income model was flawed by deferring complex financial and legal issues such as land tax, income tax and Club’s legislation, integral to the financial model itself.

It also included sales of parts of White City land to commercial operators in order to fund the building of those offices. Those operators would then have rights to on sell, and in a liquidation, the liquidator would have rights to sell to whoever they wanted to.  Onselling the land is the opposite of the previously agreed upon aim of preserving White City for the benefit of the community in perpetuity and in complete contrast to the generally accepted view that the purchase of White City was a never-to-be-repeated opportunity.

Under their financial model, Hakoah would not retain any rental from the income of the community building, as it would only serve to cover a portion of the expenses of that building. Hakoah was also required to hand over substantial control of that building.

The reason that I say it would only pay for a portion of the expenses of the community building is because the JCA clearly indicated they and other communal organisations would not pay anywhere near a commercial rental. The resultant shortfall was to be made up by Hakoah’s income from other commercial tenants at White City. The JCA also indicated no communal organisations, themselves included, were prepared to pay the hugely increased security costs caused by their presence. Again, Hakoah was being required to fund that. In the considered opinion of the Board, the financial model was flawed and in extreme risk of failure.

In the proposed communal building there is no room for further expansion, nor is their financial model compatible with admitting new community organisations wanting to buy in, whereas our model caters for both options.

Maccabi Tennis is worse off under their plan as they only get 8 tennis courts, whereas Hakoah’s plan gives them 9.

Maccabi  NSW’s long yearned for home and multi-purpose sports complex would most likely be compromised and not be able to be built as planned by Hakoah, as the proposed asset sales would, in the absence of any assurance to the contrary, include part of the land set aside by Hakoah’s plans.

The JCA appointees’ plan allowed and necessarily could only allow for a ¾ size football field and its financial model included income from it. A ¾ size field is completely useless from a playing point of view and a financial perspective. The football consortium Hakoah has been speaking to has clearly indicated it will not put in one cent of capital into a ¾ size field, whereas it will fully fund a full size field and will also return an income to Hakoah.

The Hakoah Board properly rejected that “Proposal” as not being in the interests of its members.

The proponents of that proposal, whilst now claiming urgency in moving forward, waited 4 months after the dissolution of the Working Party before launching an unprecedented campaign in the Australian Jewish News and within the community to malign and undermine the Board.  Why wait so long?  Because they finally realised the Hakoah Board was in fact moving forward without them in a positive fashion to deliver its vision and dream for Hakoah White City.

The so called WCWP are now, as a last ditch stand, demanding to be allowed to present their plan as a matter of right to members, even though many of them are not even members.

3 out of 7 signatories to their paid advertisement are not members, whilst 2 out of the other 4 only became members after the club passed the motion to sell our Hall St premises in October 2007. No organisation has any right to sell or deal with Hakoah’s assets.

So the Board felt it had no choice but to walk away from the JCA appointees’ plan. Our job is to protect your interests as members and the plan does nothing to achieve that.  In fact it not only abolishes the club, but in reality takes away the WC asset, purchased with members’ funds, from you, the members.

To further prove this point, a previous director of Hakoah, who is now on the public record as being a supporter of the JCA appointee’s plan, whilst still a Hakoah director stated, and I quote:

“Effectively what is happening is an attempt to control the site is (sic) being wrested from our board by the JCA and other powers despite there now being a clear and purposeful path resolved”.

For whatever reason, this Director now seems to think this is no longer the case. Your Board has been given no reason to change its view on this plan.

The second question I feel needs to be addressed is:  Is it correct the vote at the WCWP to accept its proposal was 8 -2 in favour including three Hakoah directors?  Why did 3 Hakoah Directors resign?

1.        The 5 JCA appointees voted as a block, notwithstanding that one of them, the President of Academy BJE refused to be part of accepting B’nai B’rith as a capital contributor, which underpinned their whole financial model.

2.        The 2 Hakoah directors who are developers voted in favour because they wanted to build something, disagreeing with Hakoah’s priorities that the sporting /social facilities had to take priority over communal offices.  As they were completely out of sync with the rest of the Board, they resigned the next day (one of whom had only been on the board for 6 months).

3.        The third director who voted in favour of the JCA appointees proposal, was at that time, unbeknown to Hakoah, involved in negotiations with the JCA to become their next CEO, which position he accepted and subsequently, a month later resigned from all other communal positions he held.

The third question that I feel needs to be addressed is:  What has Hakoah been doing for the last 3 ½ years since it purchased White City?

The Board has been very busy.  Whilst the site has great potential, it is a difficult and complex site. Further, it was always known that the funds remaining after the purchase of the site would be insufficient and that parties with interests complimentary to ours and who had the ability to provide capital would need to be found. The Board has negotiated in good faith with numerous stakeholders. Some negotiations proved unsuccessful through no fault of Hakoah’s whilst other negotiations have allowed us to now be in a position to outline the vision we believe satisfies the members and ensures the continuity of the club, by creating something that will really appeal to the future members.

Hakoah has expert consultants, concrete plans to embody the vision, a viable financial model and is currently negotiating with various stakeholders. All of this is now being jeopardised by a false and mischievous concerted campaign.

It must be noted the most vocal and active opponents of this Board have, up until very recently, been intimately involved in the White City plans. This has been in two main components of the last 3.5 years work:

  1. By being directly involved in the negotiations with potential partners to the site. Their argument may be the Board left them hamstrung with the conditions it placed on them. This, however, was definitely not the case. Balancing the needs of all of the stakeholders is a complex exercise in which they were clearly not able to succeed.
  2. By being members of the development sub-committee – this committee was charged with the responsibility of development requirements for the site. Despite a significant amount of work, this committee did not succeed in a workable plan.

The Board is unable to reconcile the fact that these opponents are publically criticising the Board for the very work they were heavily involved in.

The fourth question I must address is: How will you pay for it?

Capital needs to be found to implement our plans which can be built in stages. It is irresponsible to undertake any section unless it has been financially secured. Once funding for each of the different areas is secured, construction will commence.

White City is an opportunity for stakeholders to buy into. If the community wants it they can buy in. The success of this project was always dependent upon financial input from the communal stakeholders.

Hakoah has sufficient money in the bank which, together with the sale of some poker machine entitlements, will fund the DA process and demolition required.

If the community does not want to “buy in”, the development will be built in stages, with the sporting facilities and the Hakoah club social facilities coming first.

We are presenting you a grand long term vision and master plan and welcome the community to be part of this exciting plan.

The fifth question I need to address is: Why isn’t the whole Jewish community entitled to have a say in the affairs of Hakoah?

It is the members of Hakoah as a Registered Club and as a public company who have the exclusive right to determine the affairs of the club. What people don’t seem to appreciate is that this is Hakoah’s property to manage. The assets are not to be usurped or sold by others with no rightful entitlement to it at all.

It is interesting to note that of the 23 constituent bodies of the JCA, the Presidents of only 8, or 1/3, are members of Hakoah.

Where was the Jewish community not so long ago, when the club really needed their support to survive?   Not to be seen, either by becoming members, or patronizing the club.

Where were the communal leaders?  Certainly not sufficiently motivated or interested to tangibly support the club either by joining or patronizing it.

In 2002, then Hakoah President Andrew Kemeny stated  unless the Jewish Community thought enough of it to come and support the club, it would go out of existence in a few years time.  Where was the Jewish community who now claims a right to have a say in the club’s affairs and to dispose of Hakoah’s assets then?  Their lack of support is a contributing factor towards the club needing to close its Hall Street premises.

I am extremely disappointed at this current unrelenting and orchestrated campaign to undermine and unseat the Hakoah Board.   White City was bought with members’ funds and does not belong to the community or any communal organisation. Whilst the Hakoah Board is attempting to provide extensive facilities for the community, it’s primary and legal responsibility is to its members.

The working party with the JCA appointees was not established to sell assets. It was established on the basis the community was going to contribute to the development and bring communal donors and organisations on board.

Now that I have addressed what I believe are the major questions, allow me to share our vision with you, as members.

Hakoah at White City comprises an area of over 23,000 sqm. Hakoah was able to purchase the site in an unencumbered manner and, after paying out all debts, was left with approximately $1.5 million in the bank.  This was never going to be sufficient for the purpose of developing what we visualised, so it became very important to find parties who shared our vision and who had the ability to contribute towards realising this once in a lifetime opportunity.

It is a fact in order to ensure the right parties were fit to join us on our journey, deals would come and deals would go and the development would take a long time. Many commercial opportunities have been presented but these compromised our ability to deliver our vision and we were not prepared to deviate from this for commercial benefit.

Having negotiated with a number of parties capable of fulfilling this vision, I confirm what you are about to see meets every requirement of all those parties.  We have listened, taken note and the inclusions presented reflect this.

It is our considered opinion that, if we all pull together and share in delivering the plan, approval for our design is achievable.  However, this is only possible if we all pull together instead of letting communal politics and other agendas destroy the dream.

No one underestimates the hurdles and difficulties that may be encountered, but I repeat, our concepts are achievable and need a united approach.

Our architects, Group GSA, have prepared a scheme that delivers on each of our requirements.

–       For Maccabi Tennis Club, there will be their desired nine tennis courts.

–       There will be an Aquatic Centre that accommodates all the needs of our preferred operator.

–       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.

–       There will be a multi-purpose sports hall with sufficient space for two basketball courts and a multitude of other sports available to Maccabi NSW if they want it. This sports centre also has space for a gymnasium, a wellness centre, climbing walls, dance hall and an administration office.

–       There will be a club house that meets the necessary social requirements for those who come to the site for its restaurant, lounge area, bar and meeting rooms.

–       Provision is made for communal organisations to have more than sufficient space to meet every requirement.  Not only is this in terms of offices and meeting rooms, but indeed in terms of a function room with high ceilings capable of staging weddings, barmitzvahs, batmitzvahs, guest speakers, parties, large meetings, conferences or any desired cultural event. The function hall is supported by a pre-function area and a kosher kitchen.

–       Finally, a child-care centre of sufficient size to care for 100 children is incorporated.

As previously mentioned there are numerous parties with whom we have been negotiating. I believe there would be representatives from each of those parties here this evening. Clearly we have listened to your every requirement and this meets every need.  Each area within the site can be constructed as, and when, the money is available. The project is capable of being staged to achieve the ultimate outcome.

What ultimately gets built is in the hands of the stakeholders with whom we have been negotiating.  The real litmus test of whether a Community Centre is needed is the willingness of the community to not only participate but pay for it.

It is Hakoah’s intention to now focus on obtaining Development Approval for the proposal.     Opportunity remains for community organisations to join us in this exciting project.

All aspects of the plan can be achieved as long as the desire and willingness exists. Now that everyone can see the Board’s ability to meet every wish, we intend to push forward with our preferred stakeholders. I trust you all agree this is a really exciting project, one worthy of your full support.  I urge you to band together to make it happen.

I am personally very committed to this project as is the united Hakoah Board.  As I reflect on my time as President of this great Club, I see what I first envisaged when I went to the community centre of Mexico City in the year 2000. I was left breathless by that, as well as numerous Hakoah and JCC venues throughout South America, the USA and Europe.  Yes it has taken time.  It has not been easy. The site at White City undeniably fits our vision. We have been through the process of talking and seeing what is possible and satisfying ourselves as to what is achievable.

Sadly my time as President has constitutionally lapsed, but I confirm I am able to continue to contribute on the Hakoah Board and I am happy to devote my time, energy and passion to make this work for the benefit of our members and the broader community.

This will be my final report as President of the Club.  I am honoured to have served you and would like to thank each and every person who has helped serve this Club. There are too many to individually name but they include loyal staff, contractors, consultants, professionals, Board Members and Governors. We are a unique Club that relies upon the voluntary unpaid services of so many.

May my final words recognize those unpaid servants who have sat with me on the Board of Hakoah, dedicated to achieving our visions and committed to delivering them. May we all unite and support the Board.  There will be enough difficulties the Board will encounter without the need to deal with faction groups.

Hakoah has revealed to members its vision embodied in actual architectural modelling which will shortly be presented by the architects.

Hakoah now publicly calls on those involved in agitating against the Hakoah Board, to stop this overt and covert campaign, which can only cause, and has already caused serious damage to the WC development and the magnificent opportunity it presents.

This is a fantastic opportunity for Hakoah members and our community and as I have said, the real test of the community’s need for these facilities, will be evidenced by the readiness of communal organisations and the community generally to be involved in WC and to work together constructively to deliver the vision. The opportunity is there for such practical involvement and we welcome it.

We look forward to working together in a positive and united way to embrace this unique opportunity and to deliver a sporting, recreational and social facility that will benefit generations to come.

At this point, I am delighted to hand over to Michael Mandl from Group GSA, our architect for this project.  Groups GSA is a medium to large sized firm of architects who have been involved in our project since day 1. The partner in charge, Michael Mandl, is an active member of our community having sat on the Board of Shalom College. Being the professional that he is, Michael is very cognisant of planning issues that the site presents including a site-specific DCP, the LEP, heritage matters, compliance arrangements with Maccabi Tennis Club, etc. The firm that he represents has had extensive experience in both the club as well as the sports industries. They were the architects for numerous sports venues for the Delhi Commonwealth Games including the aquatic centre, the tennis centre and the indoor badminton centre. They were architects involved in the Newcastle University Sports Centre. On the club front their involvement includes, amongst others, the St George Leagues Club and the Parramatta Leagues Club.

There will be the opportunity to ask Michael questions after the conclusion of my report however I must specifically request at this juncture that no photos be taken of this presentation. You are now about to be privy to designs that are still to go before a full stakeholder consultation process and deviations from normal process can potentially be very damaging. Accordingly please respect the wish that there be no photos.

ARCHITECT’S PRESENTATION

Thank you Michael and I am sure everyone here is inspired by this vision.

Comments

4 Responses to “If you build it he will come”
  1. Joshua Levi says:

    I am Joshua Levi and I thought I should reply to Michelle Meyer.

    You are 100% right.
    Mr Benjamin and I did attend different AGMs.
    Unfortunately for Henry, and it isn’t his fault, he is not a Hakoah member so he wasn’t at the AGm.

    • admin says:

      This was made clear. But we did have someone to report and some of the major people were offered the right of response. They decided not to accept it.

  2. Having just read Joshua Levi’s one sided and largely uninformative reporting of Hakoah’ AGM in the Jewish News, it was refreshing to read an articulate article that reported the facts. Well done Mr Benjamin.Clearly Mr Levi must have attended a different Hakoah AGM.

    • Michelle, you’re joking aren’t you?? Where is the White City Working Party’s response to all this?? Why target JCA?? Hakoah approached them. The White City Working Party was made up of only 3 JCA appointees, the rest were Hakoah appointees.
      Get the facts straight! This article and your response is TOTALLY one sided!

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