Future of the Irish Center: We are now at a Crossroads …….

We have worked hard together with our volunteers to weather the storm at The Center and everything that COVID-19 has thrown at us during the past 12 months. Although, we are not epidemiologically in the clear yet, we have much to consider and decide about our beloved Irish Center in a post-COVID world.

In hindsight, it has been a challenging year to say the least. The Shelter in Place order on March 12 last year axed our 2020 St. Patrick’s season. This had always been a sure bet to give the UICC a financial lift during the previous forty-five years. Summer schedules and planned gatherings and celebrations involving our families and Members were all postponed or in some cases canceled altogether. Out the window went memorials, weddings, graduation parties, concerts, Irish music sessions, Irish dance Feiseanna, reunions and grandparents birthday celebrations – all occasions traditionally hosted by the UICC.

Despite the restrictions placed upon the facility we created successful ventures like Wawona Gates, the Irish Shoppe, and the St. Patricks Appeal to help the UICC through. Our Members came out and generously supported our outdoor activities while others who were sequestered at home, sent donations to The Center via the mail or online. We are truly grateful for the staunch support of donors-particularly during what were challenging financial times. Many other local enterprises were not so lucky to have the backing of an army of 1,150 active UICC members, and have sadly had to close their doors permanently.

The Irish Center is presently supported almost entirely by a volunteer force drawn from the current Board and the wider community of Irish Americans who want to ensure The Center survives. These efforts however are not sustainable longterm and we have known that for quite some time. As COVID-19 restrictions have eased, we have seen our volunteer pool decline in number, and that may be partially due to the success of our efforts this past year. Board members are continuously needed to ensure a high level of service at Wawona Gates, in addition to hired staff. While the threat of closure has passed for now, the UICC now faces greater competition going forward as other event and hospitality outlets open up.

During 2019, the Board tried valiantly to make The Center financially sustainable as a stand-alone cultural event center. We had closed the bar and restaurant the previous fall, and despite all our efforts we could not rent the spaces in our facility often enough in 2019 to cover operating costs. Again, we relied on membership dues and donations to paper over the proverbial cracks in the wall.

The building, built as a state of the art facility in the early 1970s by a brave group of dedicated men and women, unfortunately is not up to the desired standard or quality being required by the modern client. All our building systems are crying out for upgrades (from ground floor plumbing all the way to the roof and HVAC systems). We are continually doing our best to bandaid the facility issues as they arise.

While a remodel or refurbishment is certainly a possibility, what would it take to rebuild and put in place a new modern facility to attract the next generation of Irish Americans? Can we get more people to put their shoulder to the wheel? We need to cultivate the next generation of UICC stewards. We certainly cannot let our “home” fall away into disrepair any longer. It’s time for immediate concerted action. We need to make the Irish Center a destination again. It was great see the crowds lined up outside Wawona Gates during the St. Patricks season. Wouldn’t it be great to be in demand every day of the year like that? We hear the Members calling out for a gym, a sports hall, games room, music and dance spaces, a small theatre, a museum, an expanded library, art exhibition space, a space for a bar and restaurant that could be leased to someone with the expertise to run it. How would such a new structure be built? How much would it cost? How would we pay for it? How could we raise the money?

Last fall, the Board solicited the help and support of a number of local people who expressed an interest in coming up with some ideas as to what to do with The Center. We gathered some of the best and brightest minds across our city and have met several times to formulate a plan of action to put some new fresh ideas on the table. There will be much more work and different skill sets needed down the road should we decide to move forward with any type of work at the UICC. We continue to generate interest from people and ask for their support.

Much of the feedback we have received today to date was that a new building would be the most economical way of achieving our wish list in a new building.

We are extending an invitation to all members of the Irish-American community to attend a meeting on Friday May 7th at 7pm to discuss the future direction of The Center. We will present what our options are in order to move forward, and conceptual drawings and schematics of what a new Center could look like.

Public Meeting Friday May 7th at 7pm at the UICC. We want you to be part of the process!

It’s a bold move, but the time has come to take the road less travelled. Please come out on May 7th to help us decide on the future of The Center.

What will that be? Neosfaidh an aimsir! Time will Tell!

Liam Reidy, President of the UICC