The following letter was mailed via US Mail to all members on October 9, 2015.
Dear Westwood Club Members,
More than a year ago, the Westwood Board of Directors began working on the Club’s strategic plan, an ambitious upgrade/renovation project we dubbed “Westwood 2020”. Through previous events, including the Annual Meeting, “Meet the Team” cocktail hour, two Town Hall meetings, and many communications, the project has generated tremendous feedback. This document will attempt to address the major issues, in Q&A format, and hopefully set the stage for a meaningful October 19 Town Hall meeting. The last section will lay out a revised WW2020 approach, with member pricing, so please read on!!
First, I share some common themes:
- Many members expressing full support for the plan as proposed – I have been approached by several asking about up-front payment discounts, noting how excited they were that the club may, in short order, be jumping on the areas they hoped would be improved.
- Another camp expressing support for the plan, but stating they felt the requisite investment was too large.
- A third camp fundamentally opposed to the project for a variety of reasons.
- A common theme was disagreement with the dining room proposal – most on either cost or design.
- Many asked why this was not being put to a member vote.
- Many expressed concern at the lack of payment options. At the most recent Town Hall meeting we stated a “menu” of options was coming, but this has not gained widespread acknowledgement .
- Why are we doing this now? I thought things were going well.
WW2020 is the strategic plan of the club, our-by laws require us to have and execute one. I DO want to make one thing clear – WW2020 is a product of your Board of Directors . Our General Manager, Evan Sherwood, is happy to hear your feedback, but any frustration should be directed to myself or other members of the Board.
Strategic plans, by definition, are focused on the future, and WW2020 is an ambitious project requiring member investment. The Board feels, because Westwood’s member and financial condition are so strong, that now is the time to embark on something aspirational. When the economy, and perhaps membership, slows, something like this would be unlikely. Conversely, some feel when times are good, that is exactly the time to leave well enough alone, and we get that.
- If the club is in such good shape, why can’t we just pay for this out of cash or cash flow?
Our financial condition has improved dramatically over the past four years, largely thanks to the influx of members I referenced in the President’s blog, available at www.westwood2020.com. We subscribe to a private Club Benchmarking service, and those figures tell us Westwood is in the upper quartile of clubs of similar profile for financial efficiency, so members should feel good about that.
That said, we do not have strategic reserves, nor the discretionary cash flow, to save up for a project of this scale in any reasonable time frame. Like most non-profit clubs, we run a break even operation to keep member dues in check. So we do not “generate cash” on an ongoing basis. We spend about $250,000/yr on capital expenditures (physical plant), and the vast majority of that is invested in deferred maintenance – both planned (~3/5) and a reserve for unforeseen needs (~2/5 – i.e. remember when the pool drained itself?). Our history and analysis tell us those capital investment dollars will be largely spoken for by deferred maintenance projects for the foreseeable future. Our cash reserves provide for about 45 day’s expenses. So, as president and past treasurer, I do not support dipping into those reserves for capital projects.
- We borrowed money the last time – why can’t we do it again?
I lend money to businesses for a living, so I understand this dynamic well. Currently the club owes $5.3 million, most of which is left over from the 2001 project. We obtained a great refinance loan from Chesapeake Bank a few years ago, which put our debt to bed well past 2025. Our monthly payment dropped $20,000, which has allowed us to take on the above deferred maintenance projects. The loan is contractually paying down about $11,000 per month and we can prepay further if we choose to. All of that is really good news for Westwood.
That said, Club Benchmarking tells us our debt load per member is at the high end of peer clubs. Our monthly payment accounts for only 14% of our monthly dues revenue, so we have no trouble paying the bank. But again, as president, past treasurer and someone who does this for a living, I do not endorse taking on long-term debt to finance this project. I do not want us regretting how we paid for it when the aforementioned slowdown arrives.
- This is a very large project – why wouldn’t we put it up to a member vote?
That is a very sensitive question many have asked. Let’s say we put this to a member vote, and the measure passed 60-40. The Board would be duty-bound to implement the plan, knowing a huge constituency of the membership would feel completely or partially marginalized. The fallout from this could be devastating to the club. If the measure failed 60-40 you would arguably be faced with a similar dynamic. The Board is ardently seeking an impactful approach, which will receive widespread member support – that is our duty, and what we have been trying to strike with our member outreach. There is no benefit to pushing something through which ultimately harms the club – your Board and General Manager are keenly sensitive to this. It is our job to listen to the members and find the right plan, which we hope we have accomplished below.
All that said, some do not agree with the above, and there are other clubs that have chosen to go the member vote route. However, we did not take a vote for the 2001 project, and this Board feels it would be shirking its responsibilities were it to do so here.
- How much attrition have you accounted for, how much can we afford?
The short answer is we modeled 5% as a worst case, and presumed we could make that up with new members in relatively short order, given 1) our enhanced amenities and 2) a slowed normal attrition rate, premised in a remaining populous who had just voted with their check books in favor of the club. I should note the figure above is not attached to the original proposal – it is a financial modeling tool for use with the plan we determine to be the right plan. While any lost member as a result of WW2020 is regrettable, we feel the absence of action could likely contribute to future attrition, attrition we may be less well equipped to deal with at that time.
The WW2020 website (www.westwood2020.com) does a good job of spelling out the “whats” and “whys” of WW2020, so I will not go into them here, but I ask you to please review them thoroughly if you have not already. I will reiterate that those recommendations stem from a genuine and objective body of quantitative and anecdotal research, and they remain relevant.
The first Town Hall meeting had almost unanimous support for tackling these projects as a whole, so that is how we have proceeded. From a logistical perspective (disregarding money for a moment), going at it as one project has huge appeal – you can say the plan benefits all members, one capital raise, one general contractor, project staging & sequencing flexibility, costing advantages from scale, etc. However, subsequent member concern has led us to conclude too many members deem the aggregate investment too large.
So here is our revised proposal that your board is asking the members to consider:
- WW2020 is phased into three separate projects. This would entail three separate capital raises.
- Phase 1 would include:
- Building a restroom by the pool bar ($45k)
- Retrofitted LED lighting for tennis courts 3-6 ($35k)
- New lighting installed for tennis courts 7-10 ($65k)
- Renovation of our childcare facility and expansion into Tack Room, and upgrades to existing Youth Room ($375k)
- Squash mezzanine renovation into multi-purpose room, which could also serve as extra banquet space ($165k)
- Total cost of Phase 1 is estimated to be $700,000 (rounded)
- Outlined below is the member impact by broad member category and their requisite capital investment. Fundraising for this project will have a maximum two-year time frame; then it will be done. We will have options for those who wish to pay over a shorter time frame:
|Member Category||Monthly over 2yrs|
|Social Dining/Fitness and Life Capital||$25|
- Initiation fees would be increased commensurate with the associated incremental member investment. Management and future boards will determine the feasibility & financing of latter phases, including initiation fee impact.
- Subseqeuent phases of WW2020 would include a substantial renovation of the pool and outdoor amenities, and another phase reconfiguring/reinventing our dining and bar space and the potential addition of a casual “Grab ‘N Go” café, as more specifically presented on the westwood2020.com website.
Our hope is that the above information serves to “set the table” for our Town Hall meeting on October 19 at 6:00 p.m. In the meantime, I, the Board of Directors, and Evan are at your disposal should you have any questions.