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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #21 Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:12 am 
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The meeting went for a few hours, and I'll do my best to summarize. There is no way for me to accurately convey all the details of what was said, and I'm sure those in attendance have differing opinions about what was important and what message was actually conveyed. I've tried to refrain from injecting my opinions on this topic so far, but I cannot keep that up. With that in mind, I'll try to separate this into two parts: (1) a "just the facts," where I try to describe simply what was said [if I am compelled to insert my opinion, it will be in brackets like this]; and (2) my impression of what it all means. Especially since I haven't been involved with the Center for very long, I welcome correction.

Also, I hesitate to air dirty laundry like this, but I feel like this is an important issue for the Go Community--particularly in NYC and the U.S--and the lack of transparency and basic communication is the cause of several of these problems anyway.

Just the Facts
About 30 interested individuals (including members, former members, and regulars of the NYGC) met with two representatives from the Nihon Ki-in, only one of whom spoke. The Nihon Ki-in rep said that she was not happy to be meeting under the circumstances, but wanted to explain the Nihon Ki-in's decision to sell the building and also hear from us about ideas for the future of go in NYC. She said that the decision to sell the building had been made months ago, before she was appointed to her current position. According to the rep, the decision to sell the building was made because it would be expensive to renovate the building so the apartments could be rented.

(Background: for those who don't know, the building has two large apartments upstairs that would rent out for over $3,000/month. There were tenants there until about 18 months ago. The two lower floors and the basement are [were] dedicated to the Go Center. The ground floor has a large area, usually with about 15-20 go sets, but it can be expanded for tournaments. The ground floor also has a kitchen and large library of Go Books (mostly in Japanese and English, but also Korean and probably Chinese). The second floor has an apartment that was formerly used to house a visiting professional for months at a time while he or she gave lessons, etc. It has not been used for quite some time. The second floor also has several more go boards. The basement is less attractive, but also has go boards set up. There is also a great outdoor space.)

Anyhow, the amount of renovations required was unclear, though $200,000 was suggested [I doubt this figure and, at least, doubt that this figure was arrived at by any defensible method]. Someone suggested that, since the building was paid for and has equity, a loan could easily be taken against the building for the renovations, and the building could become profitable--especially if the second floor was converted for use by a tenant. The representative said that they were barred by Japanese law from taking out such a loan [while there may be some truth to this, I'm absolutely positive there is a legal way to do it]. Someone said that, back in 1995, the the Nihon Ki-in had taken responsibility for managing the apartments and then paid a third party to manage the property, and at some point someone failed to maintain it, resulting in the larger cost. At some point, it came to light that property taxes had never been paid.

Second, the representative said that the Nihon Ki-in opened the Go Center, and then "you failed." This opened a very long discussion about the history of the Center, the actions of various management and board members, and a host of other issues. Several people explained that the Center had been very successful in the past, and recently was doing well (especially considering that annual memberships were down because of the possibility of closure), but there was problems that arose because of poor management, due in part to how the Board was originally formed. Apparently, the board (which was only initially appointed by the Nihon Ki-in, and then self-selected, somehow, thereafer) was very, very insular. That is, the leadership did not solicit input from others, or even accept it when offered. This created several problems that prevented the Center from being successful. Others explained that many people stopped going to the Center because of a particular individual in the leadership (I won't go into details here).

The representative solicited ideas for how to proceed. Several were offered, including making the building profitable, selling the building and finding other space, giving the Center time to show that recent structural and leadership changes (including more "grass roots"/local participation) would allow the Center to flourish (note: the Board was changed and leadership replaced at the past Board meeting).

Someone asked, if the building were sold and the proceeds were not used to support another NY go center location, where the money would go. The representative said that it would be used to support go in the world [note: the rub here is that the building was donated for go in NYC. And, assuming the Nihon Ki-in takes it as their mission to spread go across the world, they could use the funds to pay their electric bill in Japan and say they used the funds to support go in the world.]

The "official" word right now is that there is no "official" word. The Nihon Ki-in will "get back to us" on whether or not they will continue supporting the NYGC and, if so, in what form.

Impressions

First, I am truly grateful for Iwamoto and the Nihon Ki-in's efforts in creating the Center. Also, neither the Nihon Ki-in nor any other person or entity are under any obligation to support Go in NYC. While there is a wrinkle here, because someone donated a building expressly for this purpose, I cannot blame the Nihon Ki-in for looking out for itself. But I can quibble with the manner in which they do so. If the Ki-in needs the money, fine (though the sale of a building is a rather short-sighted way of resolving monetary problems). If they truly believe there is little point in having a Go Center in NYC...well, it is their call. But they should just say so. It is clear that the NYGC has not lived up to its potential, due to a several issues. But it DOES have great potential going forward, and the issues that have plagued the Center are being resolved.

To be candid, this looked like an exercise in face-saving. The message clearly was "we gave you a chance, you screwed it up, and there is no reason to think that this is going to change." And I might agree, except for the last part. There is plenty of reason to believe that the Center can be successful going forward, as it has been in the past (sometimes, even in spite of poor leadership). But, I got the sense that the Ki-in came here to have the meeting so they could say they did so, and they could say they gave the NYGC community every opportunity to make changes and that the community failed to do so. I cannot say for sure whether selling the building is ultimately the best decision for the Nihon Ki-in--maybe it is--, but their actions indicate they are searching for excuses to close the Center and sell the building, and for a way to look good while doing it.

EDIT: Also, I think JF's post was spot on, and I hope the Nihon Ki-in continues to be involved somehow and continues to support Western go. I also hope they continue to be well disposed toward "us." So I certainly hesitate to criticize them in any way. Moreover, as I mentioned above, the Center's failings are due in large part (if not exclusively) to management here in NYC. Even if any blame falls on the Nihon Ki-in (and I'm not saying it does or doesn't), local management ostensibly didn't even attempt to resolve such issues. But that doesn't change my impression of the meeting.

As for the future of the Go Center/New York Go Club, I believe it is potentially bright under new leadership, which will allow greater participation and input from others. In fact, we'll find SOME sort of space, and I predict that it will become more successful that it has been in years. It is unclear whether the Nihon Ki-in will be a part of it.


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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #22 Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 12:02 pm 
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Thanks, judicata, for an excellent summary and analysis. I'm relatively new to the NY Go Center, but I was at the meeting last night and am sad to see that place go. Political maneuvers and troubled management history aside, the thinking behind selling the building does seem unimaginative at best. What a shame.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #23 Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 3:56 pm 
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Sounds like a great shame to me. I hope that the Seattle Go centre carries on strong. Who would have thought that Go would be more popular in Seattle than it was in NY ?

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #24 Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 3:58 pm 
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Javaness wrote:
Sounds like a great shame to me. I hope that the Seattle Go centre carries on strong. Who would have thought that Go would be more popular in Seattle than it was in NY ?


I think it's more about building value than popularity...

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #25 Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:29 pm 
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judicata wrote:
At some point, it came to light that property taxes had never been paid.

Well if this sum is significant, the party that is owed this amount may have quite a say in this matter.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #26 Posted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:52 pm 
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tchan001 wrote:
judicata wrote:
At some point, it came to light that property taxes had never been paid.

Well if this sum is significant, the party that is owed this amount may have quite a say in this matter.


This was a few years ago, and the taxes were paid.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #27 Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2010 9:10 am 
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I think the Kiiin has made it clear to us that we can't count on their support. As such, I think we can assume that we're not going to be able to buy any space. At this point, the best option I can think would be to work out some kind of deal with a place like the Japan Society to let us use one of their rooms a few times a week.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #28 Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2010 11:23 am 
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Judicata: Was there any clue in what was said as to what the Nihon Ki-in opinions were about the other centres and what might happen to them?

Even among Europeans there has been some dissatisfaction about the European Go Centre. Some have called it a bridge centre, and others would like to see it relocated. Sao Paulo seems to have a Japanese (immigrant) core to its membership, so I imagine that's safe, and Seattle seems to be financially well run. But Europe might be next in line for "downsizing" or for being held to account.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #29 Posted: Thu Dec 02, 2010 11:49 am 
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John Fairbairn wrote:
Judicata: Was there any clue in what was said as to what the Nihon Ki-in opinions were about the other centres and what might happen to them?

Even among Europeans there has been some dissatisfaction about the European Go Centre. Some have called it a bridge centre, and others would like to see it relocated. Sao Paulo seems to have a Japanese (immigrant) core to its membership, so I imagine that's safe, and Seattle seems to be financially well run. But Europe might be next in line for "downsizing" or for being held to account.


The issue of Nihon Ki-in's activities in other countries--including other centers--was raised, and she was aware of the rumors (or rumours :) ) that were circulating about "who is next." I did not understand all of the details of this conversation (to the extent any details were offered), but I believe she suggested there were no plans to reduce support for other centers, and she certainly did not suggest any other centers would be closing. But she repeated that the Nihon Ki-in is having financial difficulties, due in large part to the reduction of sponsors--mainly newspapers (which was interesting as I had not realized how important newspaper sponsors were to them). I doubt anyone is going to get a commitment of long-term support from them--and who could blame them?

Also, at various points she expressed that other communities (specifically Chinese and Korean) should get more involved in supporting go in the West (and I imagine internationally, but we were talking mostly about NYC, after all). Somewhat relatedly, many people mentioned the Japanese emphasis of the Center may have made other players feel excluded (apparently, the club was meeting above a Chinese restaurant before 1995 and was more diverse then).

I think it behooves (behoves for my friends across the pond) clubs to try not to rely completely on support from a single source (whether that be the Nihon Ki-in or someone else) -- a lesson we in this forum have perhaps learned before. I imagine that if the club is not costing the Nihon Ki-in money, they are more likely okay (it also helps if you're not housed in a building worth over $5 million).

In sum, if other clubs are in immediate danger, it was not communicated at this meeting.

If someone else can shed more light on what she said, please do.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #30 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:39 am 
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Though I obviously wish the Nihon Ki-in-sponsored Go centres all the best and a stable future, it does make me very glad that the spacious Go7 club in Vienna does not depend on the Nihon Ki-in's goodwill.

We don't have to pay rent; instead, we only have to come up with the running costs.

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Post #31 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:20 am 
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hanekomu wrote:
Though I obviously wish the Nihon Ki-in-sponsored Go centres all the best and a stable future, it does make me very glad that the spacious Go7 club in Vienna does not depend on the Nihon Ki-in's goodwill.

We don't have to pay rent; instead, we only have to come up with the running costs.


Who owns your building and what happens if you fail to come up with the running costs?

My understanding of the agreement between the Nihon Ki-in and the Seattle Go Center is the same as what you say. They own the building, but we use it rent free as long as we maintain the building and cover operating costs. The Nihon Ki-in does not expect to generate a profit from the SGC, but at the same time they do not expect to finance the operation.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #32 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:21 am 
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judicata wrote:

Just the Facts
About 30 interested individuals (including members, former members, and regulars of the NYGC) met with two representatives from the Nihon Ki-in, only one of whom spoke. The Nihon Ki-in rep said that she was not happy to be meeting under the circumstances, but wanted to explain the Nihon Ki-in's decision to sell the building and also hear from us about ideas for the future of go in NYC. She said that the decision to sell the building had been made months ago, before she was appointed to her current position. According to the rep, the decision to sell the building was made because it would be expensive to renovate the building so the apartments could be rented.



I am wondering if anyone can confirm who the Nihon Ki-in representative was. I heard that Kobayashi Chizu 5 dan was coming to NY. She is a long time friend of Western Go, if she was the speaker I am confident that her statement of unhappiness above was sincere.

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Post #33 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:22 am 
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Redbeard wrote:
Who owns your building and what happens if you fail to come up with the running costs?

My understanding of the agreement between the Nihon Ki-in and the Seattle Go Center is the same as what you say. They own the building, but we use it rent free as long as we maintain the building and cover operating costs. The Nihon Ki-in does not expect to generate a profit from the SGC, but at the same time they do not expect to finance the operation.


The Nihon Kiin has also been getting an initial loan paid back each month as long as we had a renter. Without a renter, there won't be any loan payments coming in from SGC to Nihon Kiin.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #34 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 11:59 am 
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Horibe wrote:

I am wondering if anyone can confirm who the Nihon Ki-in representative was. I heard that Kobayashi Chizu 5 dan was coming to NY. She is a long time friend of Western Go, if she was the speaker I am confident that her statement of unhappiness above was sincere.


Indeed it was. And I have no doubt that she was sincere about her unhappiness.

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Post #35 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 12:19 pm 
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Redbeard wrote:
Who owns your building and what happens if you fail to come up with the running costs?


A generous private sponsor owns the building - we just have one rather big apartment in that building. I understand the running costs aren't that hard to meet - Vienna doesn't have the same outrageous costs that Manhattan does. :) But if it became a problem, I guess we'd have to ask for help.

So - yes, there's always the risk of us messing up, but from what I've heard the Nihon Ki-in is in rather a bit more financial difficulty.

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Post #36 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 12:23 pm 
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judicata wrote:
Indeed it was. And I have no doubt that she was sincere about her unhappiness.


I thought it might have been her - after all, she also writes about having visited New York in a blog post.

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Post #37 Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 12:37 pm 
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Quote:
I thought it might have been her - after all, she also writes about having visited New York in a blog post.


if anybody's wondering, there's nothing about the NYGC. She just mentions going to NY on NK business. The rest is waffle about the weather. In fact she seems so keen on talking about the weather on her blog, we should make her an honorary Brit.

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 Post subject: Re: New York Go Center to Close
Post #38 Posted: Sun Dec 05, 2010 7:06 pm 
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hey guys, if you are in New York, here are some other places that you can play. It totally blows taht we closed, but Go is great regardless of where its played :)


A. Brooklyn Go Club (they actually usually meet in manhattan; scroll to bottom for next meet)

B. The Mostly Go Club (their meeting are a bit irregular, but we might be doing a joint project soon)

C. The Nippon Club (57th street and Madison) they have weekly meetings, friday 5-10 pm

D. There are several go clubs in Flushing, Queens

1. 36-18 Union Street (above a hair salon)

2. 11 35th ave (Corner of Union street and 35th Ave)

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