WITHIN THE FIRST FEW days of my being elected by the Board of Directors as the new president of the FCCJ (after Peter Langan resigned to take up a new post in Hong Kong), I was faced with a major decision over what to do about the Club’s proposed move to new premises in October 2018. I received what I regard as expert opinion that showed there could be problems with the move.
I decided that I must act with responsibility to all concerned, not least to all of our Members who have a financial (and in the case of Regular Members, professional) stake in the welfare of the Club. I also wanted to act with responsibility toward our landlord and toward our staff.
Around the time I assumed the presidency, our two Kanjis (Statutory Auditors) Iinuma-san and Honjo-san issued a report to the Board that had the tone of an alert. They suggested that, “the FCCJ would need to give notice to MEC (Mitsubishi Estate), the company handling the FCCJ move project, to temporarily halt (not terminate or postpone indefinitely) any work on FCCJ facilities at the new site” until the FCCJ could “sort out” its position on the move.
They came to this conclusion after recognizing the fact that the decision on this most important project in the recent history of FCCJ was made (a) under an agreement with our landlord Mitsubishi Estate of March 2015, and we were under legal obligation to move from the Denki Building to newly constructed premises at Marunouchi 3-2 (aka the New Fuji Building), and (b) we took this decision because the cost to maintain and overhaul our current premises was beyond our means. The Kanjis, however, felt that the financial projection made to justify the size of the new premises was optimistic and short on specifics.
As president, I felt I had to take heed of warnings from some in the Club that the move could involve financial risks and that the new premises might not match the Club’s requirements in terms of the standard of facilities we need to operate at least at our current level. While not necessarily accepting these arguments, I had an obligation at least to heed them.
(The agreement with MEC is confidential so I would not describe it too much in detail to the general membership, although this runs counter to the spirit of transparency I believe in.)
But that was just the start. In an email to me on Oct. 18, Bob Whiting, our Treasurer and the Finance Committee chair, basically agreed with all the Kanjis’ observations. Leaving a space for optimism however, our Treasurer said, “a new Food & Beverage contract starting Sept. 1, 2018 may help get us in the black, and a special F&B Search Task Force has been busy interviewing F&B candidates.”
Looking at the glass as “half full” was last month’s issue of the Number 1 Shimbun, which presented images of how the FCCJ could look if and when it moves to shiny new premises in the New Fuji Building. There’s no denying that these images contrasted favorably, at first glance at least, with the rather down at the heel appearance of our current premises at the Yurakucho Denki Building.
So, if you have heard, and things “get around” very quickly in our Club, that the “new” Board is taking a long, hard look at the proposed move, you may think that we are “spoilers.”
The reality is rather different. The board that was in place in March 2015 signed a contract, with General Membership Meeting approval, that committed the Club to larger premises and an amount of rent which some suggest we cannot afford, and also to a penalty in the event FCCJ wishes unilaterally to withdraw from the contract.
I personally am supportive of the Club moving from its current premises, and in fact see real advantages to making our home in new premises that are better equipped to meet the needs of a modern press club.
So, I have approached the issue of the move with an open and, I hope, careful and positive, attitude. I have seen and heard enough, however, during my first two months in office that gave me some doubts about the ability of FCCJ to pay the rent of the new premises, and issues regarding the capability of the new premises to provide us with catering and other facilities equal to those we enjoy at present.
With this in mind, I quickly launched an inquiry into the pros and cons of the move, with input both from those who favor going ahead “as is” and those who have different views. By doing this, I wanted to be sure that we act with responsibility to all parties but with the interest of you our members as our first priority.
I decided to call for a pause in contract negotiations so that all sides of the case could be rapidly reassessed and presented to the Board. We are busily examining every possible option to make sure that the FCCJ gets the best possible deal regarding the terms of the move and more importantly that it does not land itself in difficulty (or worse) by embarking upon a move that is not viable, financially or logistically. As president, I feel this responsibility keenly. I also feel a duty to keep members fully informed of what is happening, and why. This is your Club.
I have little desire to apportion blame to previous Boards, but it is only fair to say that if the question of what kind and size of Club we wished to become had been asked of the membership before the move was agreed, we might not have found ourselves in the difficulty we face now. The financial aspects and the “affordability” of the move were not properly examined, and neither was the “cost” we might have to pay by drafting new members simply to boost revenues when some of those new members might have little interest in the role of a press club.
So, please bear with us as we seek to reexamine, as quickly as possible, the options that are open to the Club as we approach the move. We will keep you fully informed at every step of the way.
In the meantime, the House & Properties committee is following up with Mitsubishi Estate on the overall building project’s construction schedule needs, but advised the Board that a swift decision should be made. Also, the Board’s F&B Search Task Force has completed an English language version of a request for proposals from prospective F&B outsourcing partners.
Myself and the Board are working hard to find solutions to these and other related issues, and we welcome any suggestions.
– Khaldon Azhari