In the early 1970s, when Terence Faulkner volunteered his services to help set up and establish the fledgling United Irish Cultural Center, he did so with the promise that he would become a lifetime member of the organization for a $200 fee.
Four decades later, Faulkner and other older members are feeling betrayed — and threatening litigation — over a new policy to charge the 4,600 members a $10 monthly fee to remain active with the organization.
“I think they’re doing this because they want to get all the old fogeys out,” said the 69-year-old Faulkner. “There is a new group of leaders at the organization and they don’t care about us. They want to squeeze out some more money, and they don’t care if we leave.”
Located on 45th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, the center was built in the early 1970s almost exclusively through the volunteer efforts of local Irish residents. Those volunteers were rewarded with the promise of lifetime memberships without future dues so long as they paid the initial $200 fee.
However, the organization’s new board of directors approved a measure late last year to charge the $10 monthly fee to meet the center’s growing list of maintenance and operations costs. The club will start imposing the fee in April. Those who don’t pay the rate will not enjoy membership perks, such as discounts at the restaurant located at the site and the right to vote on upcoming initiatives and programs.
Judith Kell, president of the board, said the center has $180,000 worth of expenses, most of them related to upkeep of the 40-year-old building. The organization has limited revenue sources — renting out the banquet hall, proceeds from the restaurant and one annual pledge drive — that do not entirely cover its needs.
“The repairs are really killing us and things do add up — a deep fryer for the restaurant costs $10,000,” Kell said.
“We understand the concerns of the older members, but we don’t think a $10 fee is exorbitant.”
Kell said reaction to the fee has been mostly positive, but Faulkner predicted that thousands of the club’s members would leave as a result of the charge. He said the center could increase revenue in other ways, such as doing a better job of renting out its banquet hall that’s located near the San Francisco Zoo.
Faulkner also said he is considering a lawsuit if the club moves forward with the fee.
Members entered into a contract with the club when they agreed to pay the initial fee, Faulkner said, and the center would be violating those terms.
“We literally built this club and they’re trying to discard us,” said Faulkner, who was the former chairman of San Francisco’s Republican Party. “But we’re not going down without a fight.”