Maplewood Township will purchase the beleaguered Maplewood Woman's Club property for $1 million -- half its listing price -- according to a statement made by Mayor Vic DeLuca at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting.
The committee voted 5-0 to move ahead with the purchase and to authorize the debt to be included in the capital budget.
DeLuca said the committee began to discuss the possible purchase after learning of the recent collapse of the deal between the club and local philanthropist Tom Kerns, founder of the HK Project.
DeLuca said the township wanted to purchase the property to be used for the public.
The fact that the township could gain sorely needed parking spaces was a huge factor in the committee's decision, said Committeeman Jerry Ryan after the meeting. The move would make a minimum of 60 additional parking spaces available to the township, depending on how the space was configured.
"Paramount in the decision was our strong interest in maintaining the viability of Maplewood Village as a premier shopping area," said DeLuca. "The Woman's Club property will give us the ability to dramatically increase Village parking to service the community's needs."
He also said the committee was aware of the building's importance to the community, but that "time has not been a friend to the building. Our intention is to evaluate what it would take to keep the building standing. We will explore a partnership with non-profit groups and the private sector to see what is possible. We understand the value of that building and will be guided by its history as we move forward."
He commended the dedication and commitment of the Woman's Club members in enabling the deal to happen. "They could have made more on the sale to a developer but instead want to work with the Township to create a community benefit," said DeLuca. "Acquiring this property is a game changer for Maplewood Village. We thank the members of the Woman's Club for their decision to sell the property to the Township."
Ryan called it a "unique once in a lifetime opportunity for us." He said that in one fell swoop, the township could address parking congestion in the village and explore ways to partner with non-profits and other third parties to make the club into a space that could benefit the community.
Ryan pointed out that the purchase would force the committee to make an exception to its practice of shrinking the capital budget as it had for the past several years, but that he thought it was worth it.
DeLuca told Patch after the meeting that the township would still go through with defending the current lawsuit involving the Zoning Board of Adjustment's decision to grant a variance for the site. "The board's decision was proper and we are moving forward with the lawsuit," he said.
DeLuca said the township would consider partnering with various non-profit organizations such as the VFW, which has been looking for a space of its own, or HK Project. Ryan said the township might issue an RFP to lease an entity to operate the building.
However, both emphasized that this was just the first step in a longer process that would involve closing on the sale, evaluating the building and its repair needs and beginning discussions on how best to use the property.
Caroline Farnsworth, the property's listing agent, issued the following statement to Patch after the meeting: "The Woman's Club would prefer to close sooner rather than later, and believes this agreement with the town will enable them to do so with limited risk. They are happy to have come to agreement quickly and to move forward on this deal with the town."
Patch will have more on this story as details develop.