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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 . 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. 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 ," 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.

Elise Braden March 18, 2011 at 08:03 PM
It's funny...in my heart of hearts I had a feeling that the HK Community Fund would be instrumental in keeping this wonderfully historic building as a town treasure! Maybe it was his involvement with the Vintage Gold Production this past fall, maybe it's just his commitment to our community. I know that he thoughtfully guide the use of this venue, and I'm thrilled for our town!
Clawson Architects, LLC March 18, 2011 at 09:30 PM
What GREAT NEWS for the Community!!! Congratulations and Thank You Tom for Caring!!! Rene Clawson
FanwoodMom March 18, 2011 at 09:32 PM
So glad to hear that this wonderfully historic building might be sold to such a thoughtful and responsible new owner. I can still remember the way the building looked inside (and out) - the smell of the hotdogs and baked goods for sale at the annual Women's Club Sale. My mom and I would so look forward to the annual event, and we would buy at least one thing every year. I still have a Christmas tree ornament with my name on it and the date (1977) that we bought one fall - it goes on my tree every year as a reminder of my beloved home town and my beloved mother :-) How nice that we could have such fun times all within walking distance to our home. So glad the new owner wants to preserve the building, the Women's Club history, and continue to make it a center for the community,
lorraine labonne-storch March 18, 2011 at 09:44 PM
This is truly wonderful news for Maplewood and South Orange. Thanks Tom for your commitment to preserving history and to providing opportunities for the community to thrive. This is what Maplewood and South Orange are all about.
Julie Doran March 18, 2011 at 10:24 PM
Welcome to the Village, Tom and everyone associated with the HK Development! What a happy outcome for all of us in Maplewood and South Orange!
Marian Buck-Murray March 19, 2011 at 01:45 PM
Thank you Tom! It's people like you who make Maplewood such a fabulous, heart-warming place to live!
Corey March 19, 2011 at 02:13 PM
I cannot even wait to see the Woman's Club after all the improvements. Thank you Tom for once again adding to the our town in your own special way :)Looking forward to the many events that will take place there in the future!
Thank you Tom and Jeanmarie! I see great things in Maplewood's future with you two around! Looking forward to being able to partake in all that the HK Community fund does! You should rename the building it "Piazza Maplewood" or Maplewood Palazo" (but then again you may get lot's of calls for pizza orders!)
Geralyn Robinson March 22, 2011 at 06:57 PM
This is the Best NEWS .... The Woman's Club is a beautiful building, I am so happy it is not going to be torn down. Thank your Mr. Kerns.
cindy blau March 25, 2011 at 03:59 AM
Behind every great man is an even greater women... you certainly can't go wrong with a prior entity filled with woman doing wonderful and charitable acts of kindness. thanks to jeanmarie and tom for being so supportive of our town and its people... & thanks for just being who you are. peace. cindy

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