Woman's Club Finds Buyer for Clubhouse
A local philanthropist wants to preserve, restore and enhance the building and the activities therein. The Woman's Club is considering new space and looking forward to focusing on charitable work.
The Woman's Club has a buyer.
After months of speculation and rumors, the Woman's Club of Maplewood is selling its 1930-era clubhouse building at 60 Woodland Road for an undisclosed sum to Lamona LLC.
And just what or who is Lamona LLC?
The limited liability corporation was formed by Tom Kerns, Maplewood resident and co-founder of the not-for-profit charitable organization HK Community Fund. The building had been listed for an asking price of $2.4 million. The selling price is speculated to be much lower than the asking price but reflects the fact that the successful bidder is not proposing to raze the building to develop the property or seek to build additions to the building — and therefore is asking for few contingencies.
"There's a lot more involved than the price," said Caroline Farnsworth of Keller Williams, the real estate broker for the Woman's Club. "It's a complex process. There are other aspects of the deal that have value — it's not just about price. We've arrived at a point where we believe it is a win-win situation for all parties concerned."
Kerns and Jo Ann Aponte, president of the Woman's Club, signed the Purchase and Sales agreement today that stipulates what needs to occur in order to close on the sale — which will not happen until all inspections are completed and the use variance is granted — of the building from the Woman's Club to Lamona LLC.
Kerns initially thought to purchase the building through the HK Community Fund, but he found that it was legally more straightforward to form a for-profit LLC to purchase the building.
"We did have multiple offers on the building," said Farnsworth, "But the one settled on today is the one that's the most workable and allows both to achieve their objectives in the transaction."
Kerns will not receive any abatements from the town. Upon the sale, the building is being transferred onto the tax rolls. Previously, the Woman's Club had worked out a short-term payment in lieu of taxes — or PILOT — with the town after the town sued the club in Essex County Tax Court over the tax-exempt status of the building. The building, which was included by vote of the Township Committee in the Maplewood Village Alliance special improvement district last year, will also pay an assessment based on its real property taxes to the Alliance.
Kerns has extended an offer to the Woman's Club to continue to be housed in the building and hold Woman's Club events there, but the women are considering a number of options. "The Club will go on," said Farnsworth. "The Club is not the building — it's the members. And they will continue their work."
The purchase of the building begins the fulfillment a long-held dream for Kerns to buy a place in Maplewood where the community could come together. Kerns said he was sitting in a piazza in Florence, waiting for his wife and three daughters to finish shopping, when he pulled out his blackberry and saw a posting that the Woman's Club was for sale. Kerns took a picture of one of the street signs at the piazza — Lamona.
"I thought, 'You always wanted to have a place, that's big place, why not?'" Kerns said he also worried that another buyer might want to take down the building or alter it. "It would be an absolute shame for that building to go away," said Kerns.
Said Kerns, "My goal is to make it profitable, but I can live with just breaking even as well."
"I have the opportunity to create a space that is popular with the community. But also do it in such a way that it's a benefit to the village."
Kerns envisions community events, concerts, weddings, charity events, and corporate events. "We'll build on what the women have done over the years." While programming the building, Kerns will carry on restoration of and improvements to the building.
"The guts of the building are fine," said Kerns, but many upgrades are needed. The building currently has no air conditioning. Windows have been sided over and blacked out, the fireplaces are not working, and the kitchen is outdated and does not meet code — currently caters must bring in their own ovens for events at the site.
Kerns indicated that he hopes to landscape the property, including the adjacent land that is currently overgrown.
And there's more.
"We'd like to restore the theater back to its original glory," said Kerns, who noted that the theater is a hidden gem. "There are dressing rooms beneath the stage that have gone unused for years." Kerns sees an additional working theater as complimentary to the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts.
"Maplewood and South Orange could be such a mecca for artists. There is so much to go around."
Although Kerns will change the name of the building — either to "The Maplewood Venue" or "The Venue Maplewood" — he wants to memorialize the Woman's Club by creating some kind of permanent historical exhibit.
"They have an amazing history," said Kerns who marvels at the fact that the Woman's Club raised enough money during World War II to buy a fighter plane for the federal government.
There is another positive aspect of the sale. "It will free them up by not having to focus on the building and the maintenance," said Farnsworth. They can focus more on the charitable work that they love to do."
"It's a wonderful architectural building," Farnsworth added. "They've done a good job keeping it up."
Change may be coming to the Woman's Club clubhouse building, but "first and foremost," said Kerns, "I want to maintain it as a community space."
This article was first published on March 18, 2011, at 2:50 p.m.