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Players Club Could Go Dark This Week Amid Increasing Debt

By Amy Zimmer | May 9, 2013 7:03am
 The Players Club is on tough financial times.
Inside the Players Club
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MANHATTAN — The lights might soon go out at Gramercy Park's legendary Players Club — literally.

Con Edison workers came to the club on Monday, threatening to shut the electricity off if the club didn't pony up the $8,000 it owed the utility company, a staffer said.

"They will come back and shut it off if we don't give them money," said Joe Canela, a bartender and union shop steward at the club. "If Con Ed presses [the club], then they have to give them the money, but then they won't be able to meet payroll."

Con Ed was expected to return Thursday, Canela added, claiming the utility wanted at least $5,000 to keep the power on.

It's not the first time the Players Club has almost plunged into darkness in recent months because of nonpayment, club insiders said. But some worried this latest cash-flow crisis could be the institution's final curtain call after a 125-year run.

The actors' society, founded by Shakespearean thespian Edwin Booth, has set the stage for its own drama as nearly $3 million in debt has piled up.  Amid allegations of fiscal mismanagement, the Players' director of 20 years recently left, and a group of members have called on the club's top brass to step down, petitioning for a special meeting to vote on their fate.  

Besides the money for Con Ed, the club owed $14,000 to its meat supplier, $3,500 to its laundry service, and $2,800 for heating and air-conditioner system costs. It also was behind a whopping $75,000 to $100,000 on its façade repair work, which has been halted for lack of payment, according to an angry email a member sent to the board on Tuesday obtained by DNAinfo New York.

"Any suggestions/donations, 'Hail Mary' rescues welcome," the member wrote.

The club was presently "rudderless," with no one overseeing daily operations, members told DNAinfo, and there's also been a rash of resignations. Three officers of the board stepped down, along with the club's attorney and member of the board, which includes esteemed Broadway actor Brian Murray and the star of TV's "Raising Hope," Martha Plimpton.

The Players strategy to stay afloat has been to rely on loans from deep-pocketed members or by selling off its prized art collection, according to a nearly two-year investigation by the member-led Financial Audit Committee.

It recently came to light that a loan from borro.com — essentially a pawnbroker, members said — for one of the club's prized John Singer Sargent paintings was for $300,000, at 39 percent interest, not $250,000, at 24 percent interest, as the audit committee told members at a March meeting, according to Canela.

"So, on a monthly basis, you have to pay a ton of money," Canela said, adding. "Most of the money from the loan is already used up."

It appeared that some board members have been kept in the dark about financial practices.

"These matters affecting our club are serious," Plimpton wrote in an email obtained by DNAinfo. "As a Board member, I have... been surprised at what was not shared with me, or decisions made without full Board participation."

The lack of transparency and alleged squandering of money was why Lee Pfeiffer, the audit committee co-chairman, recently wrote a letter to the board and his committee, withdrawing his membership status.

The letter, obtained by DNAinfo, also discussed the need for a leadership change of the three remaining board officers.

"If that fails, I have been shown paperwork by concerned members that would involve sending an appeal to regulatory agencies to remove them from office on the basis of neglect of their fiduciary duties and provide a trustee to run the club," he wrote. "And if that measure doesn't do the trick, then a class action lawsuit has already been drawn up."

He continued: "While I have nothing to do with these strategies personally, I am appalled that members have to go to such lengths just to remove people from office who they don't want representing them."

Players' board president Johnnie Planco did not respond to a request for comment.

"This landmark year can either be remembered for the demise of the club or its resurrection," Pfeiffer wrote. "I fear the former but I'm hopeful for the latter."