By Debra Smith Herald Writer
The Everett Elks Lodge has stopped making payments on its new $8 million lodge on Hoyt Avenue, according to members. The club also is having trouble paying its bills.
“We are starting to plan what we need to do to get out of (the building),” said Gary Davis, chairman of the Elks Board of Trustees. “We are in deep trouble.”
Three Elks members pointed the finger of blame at the city during an Everett City Council meeting Wednesday night.
They told city leaders that a streets project outside their building was making it tough for elderly members to get to evening functions and deterring people from renting out the lodge’s banquet hall, lounge and restaurant.
Food and beverage sales and venue rentals make up most of the club’s revenue.
“It’s literally killing the Elks,” Davis said. “We are down 40 percent.”
The Elks have filed a claim with the city, asking for $4,000 a month until construction is finished.
Most of the club’s activity happens at night. Some evenings, members arrive to find large piles of sand or construction equipment parked in front of the club’s door, Davis said. One 91-year-old slipped in the mud on a nearby torn-up street. Another member tripped over a big rock that she couldn’t see because street lights hadn’t been replaced.
The project, started last fall, involves tearing up the roadways to replace underground sewer and water mains and putting in new roadway surfaces, sidewalks, curbs, bike lanes, decorative lighting, street trees and landscaping. The project is taking longer than expected.
“I see two or three months of this and we’ll be locking the doors of the Everett Elks club,” Davis said.
City engineer Ryan Sass said that if the weather cooperates, the Elks should have better street access by the end of this month. He said construction managers have met with the Elks to try and resolve some of the issues. Now Sass said he’ll meet with them, too, to see if anything else can be done.
He also acknowledged: “It’s always going to be disruptive when we’re doing work.”
Dennis Andersen, an Elks trustee, acknowledged that the streets project wasn’t all to blame for the lodge’s financial woes. He said all fraternal organizations are in tough financial situations.
“We’re all on the ropes,” he said.
The construction has wreaked havoc with the club’s operating budget.
“We are on the verge of losing our building and bankruptcy,” he said Thursday. “This is not helping.”
He told the council the Elks were “circling the bowl” and that the new lodge has taken a financial toll on the club.
The club opted to sell its old lodge in 2006 and build a new lodge across the street. Nine luxury condominiums on the top three floors were supposed to help pay for the new building. By the time the first of the condos was ready for buyers, the bottom had dropped out of the housing market.
“When we started this, it was a grand project,” Andersen said. “Every bank in town wanted to loan us money. To have it end up this way on my watch is so embarrassing and it hurts.”
Davis declined to talk about whether any of the condos had sold. As of Thursday, two of the condos had active listings: a one-bedroom condo was priced at $299,000 and a two-bedroom at $389,000.
He said the building financing is a separate issue from the club’s day-to-day finances. He’s hopeful a deal can be reached where investors take over the condos and “let us stay in our quarters.”
“Unfortunately, like many other good people who developed housing and condominiums in the past several years, the Everett Elks Club hit the market with their units right when the housing bubble burst,” said Tom Hoban, Coast Real Estate CEO. “Like any developer, they have inventory that isn’t selling at the asking prices they are stuck trying to achieve.”
Everett’s Elks lodge was founded in 1899. Philanthropy is a core mission of the club. Over the years, its members have included mayors, congressmen, senators and two governors.
In its heyday, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks boasted more than 5,000 members. Today, membership is just under 900.
“Hopefully, they can leave this condo developer chapter of their organizational life behind and find a way to keep operating the club,” Hoban said. “But they would not be the first — nor will they be the last — to feel the wrath of this recession and the housing market decline.”
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org