By Shelby Brown —
After almost 30 years, declining revenue and membership could force the University Club to close its doors. General Manager Bill Rothballer sent a fundraising letter to University Club members outlining the situation.
“We’re in what would be called a perfect storm this year,” Rothballer said.
Rothballer said the club has faced financial challenges before, but this past year is the first time all its revenue streams – the endowment, membership and food spending – declined simultaneously.
The Bingham Endowment, managed by the U of L Foundation and created to keep dues affordable, has declined steadily over the last six years.
Rothballer’s letter said the club received more than $256,000 in 2013, but less than $145,000 this past year.
Recruitment has also taken a hit resulting in lower dues revenue.
“There seems to be certain amounts of animosity in the community towards how the university has been run under previous administrations,” Rothballer said.
He said there is a lack of interest in joining the club. He said membership director Linda Johnson has heard complaints while attempting to recruit.
“On average, we are losing up to 70 members annually. Some are due to aging and physical health of the members. A number, or resignations as well as resistances to join, are related to disenchantment with university practices,” Johnson said.
The club is trying to avoid raising dues while brainstorming long term recruitment strategies.
“They’re (alumni) not going to do anything with the university until things are straightened out,” Rothballer said.
U of L’s budget cuts also restricted how departments buy meals and catering. The club saw spending plummet 21 percent.
Rothballer said the club’s board has been discussing the declining revenue since December.
“We started noticing that we weren’t producing positive numbers and it’s escalated,” he said.
Alumni membership is $50. Faculty and staff membership dues are tiered based on salary.
“That was part of what the Bingham endowment was for, it was to offset the expenses so it would be affordable and anyone would be able to belong,” Rothballer said.
When former U of L President Donald C. Swain opened the University Club, Rothballer remembers the highest participation of faculty, staff and alumni. During former President John W. Shumaker’s term, Rothballer said the club was used two or three times a week with networking meetings in different rooms all day.
“Dr. (James) Ramsey came on board and he had to deal with budget cuts. It seemed like a lot of the use at the departmental level started dropping,” Rothballer said.
Rothballer said the drop in revenue has been a stressful time for the employees at the University Club.
“We’ve got 50 employees who depend on feeding their children and their health insurance and everything else here. For the most part, I think most of us love our job here and it’s a set of circumstances that hasn’t been encountered in the past,” he said.
Rothballer’s letter to University Club members said they have been committed to serving the Cardinal family.
“We have celebrated with you through the years, hosted business luncheons and seminars. We are hopeful we will continue to serve you for many years to come, but we need your help,” Rothballer said.
This article will be updated.
Photo by Arry Schofield / The Louisville Cardinal