Press club recovering from near bankruptcy

By Robert Pilgrim

The future of Ottawa’s National Press Club is brighter after brushing with financial ruin in 2003. The club was facing bankruptcy last July but thanks to a two-year restructuring plan, the clouds are lifting.

Club president Tom MacGregor says he is confident the Press Club can recover completely.

“I think things are (coming together).” “We’re already six months into a two-year plan looking at all the club’s finances.”

Club spokesperson James Leveque says that recently, interest in club functions has increased.

“Activity is definitely up from last year,” Leveque says. “More people are engaging in the dining room and that is (a good sign).”

The club first went into bankruptcy protection in July 2003 because of a drastic fall in membership over the past few years. At the moment, there are only about 400 members.

“There’s no denying that times are changing,” says MacGregor. “Thanks to convergence, there’s less reporters on the Hill because now instead of each paper sending a (parliamentary correspondent), there will be one person representing, say, CanWest.”

The club racked up a debt of about $220,000 in 2003 and with a dwindling membership, concerns escalated drastically.

“The problem with the club was the interest that built up on the debt,” Leveque explains. “Now, the club must generate business in ways that don’t cost a lot.”

Participating in numerous fundraisers, including a successful auction for the Lowertown Youth Centre, has helped the club steady itself.

The club has also started hosting a series of monthly guest speakers which is popular with members of the government and the media.

“(NDP leader) Jack Layton packed the joint,” Leveque says. “Other guests almost sold out as well.”

Now 76 years old, the Press Club has enjoyed a rich and distinguished history as one of Ottawa’s most venerable institutions. At its peak in the 1980s, the club had more than 1,000 members.

Despite everything, MacGregor says he thinks there will always be a place for the historic club.

“I think there will always be a need for immediacy and the club provides that. We’re located right above the National Press Gallery and I think that immediacy will help the club survive.”

The club is still under bankruptcy protection, but it has put a proposal before its creditors and is awaiting their decision.

The club is also accepting nominations for its new executive council and Leveque says interest is high.

“There are two people wanting to be president and seven people running for the director positions,” he says. “This tells us people haven’t given up on the club.”