Masonic Buildings - $100,000 for Freemasonry and rethinking Old Models.

From WBro Damien of Lodge Devotion, Building Manager 141 Gipps St Collingwood

A few years ago I became the bookings manager of the Collingwood Masonic Centre. We built our hire profile and repositioned the Centre for success. A couple of weeks ago I issued invoice number 220 to an Irish Dance Club and combined with efforts at another Centre, I have brought over $100,000 of external hire income into Freemasonry. Yes $100K. It is quite an achievement and reversed the Collingwood Masonic Centre financial position from insolvency, yet it is only a beginning and we hope to strengthen the viability of Masonic Centres even more in the future. The simple message is that can be done – Masonic Centre can be made to generate income, even when not “state of the art” or “Class A”, and without shops to rent. When we started, Gipps St was far from the more presentable building it is today, but even at humble beginnings we started making the income critical to saving our Centre.

The achievement is not just mine, our Committee of Management is progressive, commercially savvy and have taken responsibility for the fortunes of our Temple. Our President Mike's energy and commitment is highly motivating, and our quiet Treasurer keeps the books and cashflow ticking along. Many others have dedicated many many volunteer hours to our success and lodges have been flexible and supportive – as have Grand Lodge. It a success we can all take pride in.

The old model of lodges providing the main income for a centre is dead. The sooner other Committees realised this, the sooner they can reposition to save their centres rather than sell them. More lodges meeting at each centre is often seen as the answer – it is not. Indeed there are several Centres who realise this can actually compromise their commercial success. We should spread our lodges out and not concentrate them in fewer centres – this creates space for external leasing with minimum impact to lodges and external users. It keeps our footprint in communities. It preserves our wealth. Such an approach is contrary to the common and current one of selling buildings and concentrating lodges into fewer buildings.

In the period prior to WW2, Freemasons worked hard to build centres from nothing. In the post WW2 era we have seen consolidation. So many centres built post 1960 were constructed with the proceeds of sales of multiple Masonic centres. Sunshine is an example – several masonic buildings sold to purchase the current one. The new Box Hill building is another example – it is said that the old Box Hill Temple, the Camberwell. Kew. Canterbury and Blackburn will all be sacrificed to fund the new Box Hill building. Five gone to built a single Centre. Think of it like this, would you sell period houses in Canterbury, Camberwell, Kew and Box Hill for a single new house in Box Hill? Doesn’t sounds like good Real Estate investing to me. Rumours are that the powers would like to see Brighton Masonic Centre sold (which includes a commercial component in Church St Brighton no less) to help fund the new Gardenvale Center. You can only sell the farm once (or silverware or what ever other similar euphemism you like). Often multiple brick buildings on sound foundations are being exchanged via sale for a single tilt slab construction. Yes, the incorporation of commercial space for leasing, like the doctors rooms at Waverley give a passive and reliable income, but at what real cost ? Once the new tilt slab building reaches the end of its life, how will we fund reconstructing another on the same site? Will we lament the sale of assets like Gipps St or the iconic Camberwell on its corner site with a huge amount of carparking ? Yes, I am sure we will. Unless of course like so many of our buildings, the Craft is managed into oblivion – an unlikely scenario here in Victoria where we seem to be doing well.

Every business needs to be sustainable. Our model of selling several Centres is faulted and unsustainable. Even if we sacrificed only two centres to build each new one with a usable life of 40 years, in a hundred years and twenty years we will have reduced 50 Masonic centres to 6.25. That is not positioning for growth Brethren. And of course, we swap prime real estate (Camberwell, Canterbury, Kew) for lower value locations like Box Hill and hence erode our wealth and real estate legacy even more than we think. The time frame I gave is an optimistic and often four are sold for one. It will take 30-60 years for some to see the results clearly that others clearly identify today.

It is time to rethink old models. It is time to look as Collingwood as an example of what applying smarts and commitment can achieve..