World Trade Club to close Friday

Finances fail at venerableS.F. business organization

The World Trade Club of San Francisco will shut its doors permanently Friday because of financial troubles, President Conrad Breece said Monday.

“We don’t have enough money to continue to operate,” Breece said. “I advised the members last Friday that we’d cease operations as of Oct. 29.”

The members-only club was founded March 13, 1957 to promote international travel and trade, according to state records. It is a private business and social club that has offered industry-themed special events, such as a lunch and book promotion on Oct. 20 with former Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) CEO Carleton Fiorina. It also had frequent social events, such as wine tastings and brunches. Members paid a $1,000 initiation fee, $180 in monthly dues and meal and drink services, whose prices were on par with other restaurants, Breece said. The club also earned money on special events and meeting room rentals.

Breece cited declining membership, fewer club members taking their lunches and dinners at the club, the impending BART seismic retrofit work nearby and the loss of any practical use of the club on Saturday afternoons due to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market as factors contributing to the club’s financial struggles.

Since 2001, when it left the Ferry Building during renovations, the club has been located at One Ferry Plaza in a building owned by Ferry Plaza LP on land leased from the Port of San Francisco. The building has large windows and in-your-face views of the Bay Bridge, the waterfront and fly-by pelicans. It also has a hefty rental price tag; The World Trade Club was paying $640,000 annually to Ferry Plaza LP on a 20-year lease, according to Port of San Francisco spokeswoman Renee Dunn. Ferry Plaza passed $120,000 back to the Port and did a $3.5 million remodel of the property, she added.

Breece said the World Trade Club’s problems may reflect a trend among clubs that don’t offer sports facilities or other extras.

“Clubs are struggling today,” Breece said. “Membership is aging, young people are not joining at the same rate they did when I joined this club 25 years ago.”

That may be true of the World Trade Club, but it is not true of clubs in general, according to James Singerling, CEO of the Club Managers Association of America, a professional group with approximately 7,000 club-staff members in more than 3,000 country, city, athletic, faculty, yacht, town and military clubs.

“In fact, we’ve seen a steadier increase over the past 10 years of 1 to 2 percent a year,” Singerling said.

But, he added, the group has not seen new city clubs being established, as opposed to golf clubs, which are often built by residential developers to add value to their projects.

Tim Odenweller, the World Trade Club’s general manager, has already resigned and taken a post at the California Tennis Club, according to staff members at both clubs. He has not yet started his new job, and could not be reached Monday.

The World Trade Club will continue to serve lunch and dinner to members for the remainder of the week.

“It’s a sad day. I’ve enjoyed this club; It’s been an important part of my life for a long time,” said Breece, who has been a member for 25 years.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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