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Township to Purchase Woman's Club for $1 Million

Mayor made surprise announcement on "gamechanger" for Maplewood at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting.

 

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.

CJV February 24, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Lee, as much as I wanted your hypothesis to be true, there is no evidence the township is going to do anything with the property except use the space as a parking lot. The neighbors have won a big victory, albeit at the expense of the town they live in. Outrageous? Yes. But factual.
Lee Navlen February 24, 2013 at 08:48 PM
Evidence? What kind of evidence are you looking for? Are you buying Jerry Ryan's claim that the purchase was made for 60 spots? Believe me, the last guy De Luca is discussing this thing with is Ryan who cannot keep a secret. One of two things will happen. The building will be torn down and the property flipped or De Luca will settle the lawsuit and get another interested party to buy it to host events. The greasy wheels are in motion..
Lee Navlen February 24, 2013 at 09:07 PM
one more point.The legal issue of speculating on real estate won't be an issue if the building is condemned. In that there's a great chance that it will, the Mayor can then flip the property while indicating the flip was never a part of the original plan but became a issue once the building was no longer usable.
Joe Gonzalez February 25, 2013 at 09:36 PM
I'm new to Maplewood...just moved here about 2 years ago from the city (well, actually Brooklyn, which is technically part of NYC). I'm a new parent and wanted great schools, safety, a great community "aura", and a short commute to the city (so I can spend more time with my son) which everyone that I spoke to said Maplewood can deliver on. I was warned about the taxes, and I'm definitely seeing why. I reasoned that which such high taxes, the benefit must be great. I just started getting involved with these types of stories on The Patch, and I have to say it saddens me to hear that the committee spends a million taxpayer dollars on a property for parking and the "hope" that they can work with someone to make the building into a place that can serve the community. Shouldn't that kind of research be done in advance to determine the proper return of the sale? I think that is just common sense. Even if the building is deteriorating badly, I don't see the logic. And parking? I go downtown frequently and have never had a problem finding parking. Maybe it is because I'm from the city and have seen much much worse parking conditions, but I don't see the benefit.
Stephen Sekel March 11, 2013 at 03:20 AM
Apart from gaining some (60 is the number that has been mentioned) parking spaces -- and I hope we are not contemplating a multi-level parking garage for commuters (which would increase traffic congestion unacceptably and unsustainably in Maplewood village during rush hours), what other ideas can the Township share with us about the redevelopment of the Women's Club? What about repurposing the space into condominium or rental studios for the arts -- music, dance, drawing and painting, and drama. Maplewood is already an artsy community and there is probably a pent-up demand for reasonably priced space for these purposes.

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