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Doomsday Scenario Would Sell Debt-Ridden Players Club's Gramercy Park Home

By Amy Zimmer | June 24, 2013 7:04am
 The Players Club is having tough financial times.
Inside the Players Club
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MANHATTAN — The Players Club's historic Gramercy Park townhouse could be put on the market as a drastic measure to deal with mounting debt.

Putting the home of famous Shakespearean thespian Edwin Booth, who founded the club, on the market was a doomsday scenario aired at the debt-ridden actors society's annual meeting last week.

The club's treasurer told members that the "good news" was that the 125-year-old institution would still be able to exist in a new spot if it sold the building.

But the "bad news" of the possible sale  of 16 Gramercy Park South left club members who attended the closed-door meeting Wednesday aghast.

Club officials stressed that the club would work hard to keep its home as officials shared ideas for raising money for the institution that is roughly $4 million in the red.

"That's an end-of-the-world possibility," Players board president Johnnie Planco told DNAinfo New York about the potential sale of the building.

It's unclear what the four-floor park-facing mansion with more than 10,000 square feet would fetch. 

The ritzy neighborhood is averaging $1,464 a square foot, according to CityRealty.com. That would make the building worth more than $14 million.

A nearby 10,000-square-foot, 27-foot-wide brownstone at 11 Gramercy Park South is currently listed for $18 million, according to StreetEasy.com. The Players' neighbor at 18 Gramercy Park South recently sold just one unit for $16.9 million — a record for the area at $4,011 per square foot  — according to CityRealty.

But those buildings were renovated.

The Players, on the other hand, has a crumbling façade, and work on it has been halted because there's no cash to continue.

The building has other money woes.

After owing more than $250,000 in back property taxes, the Players Club now has a lien on the property, according to Department of Finance officials. The city sold the debt to a third-party who will likely issue additional fees when collecting payments from the club, finance officials said.

The board president told DNAinfo New York he hadn't heard about the lien.

Planco, who co-founded a management and production company whose clients were said to include Daniel Day-Lewis and Judi Dench, said the club was busy plotting creative fundraising strategies, many of which would tap into the Players' role in the world of theater and film.

The club also planned to reach out to film studios to discuss not only using the building as a shooting location and for parties, but to have studios buy corporate sponsorships for the naming rights of rooms, Planco said.

They reached out to Actors Equity — the union founded in the club 100 years ago — for possible partnerships and were approaching groups such as the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild and other actors group to discuss using club rooms for meetings, he said.

Some members, however, thought it was ironic that the club was reaching out to other unions when the union workers at the club have been without a contract for four years.

A group of members that had petitioned the club to hold a vote on Planco's tenure had thought they were going to cast ballots at Wednesday's meeting, but the meeting was abruptly adjourned before they had a chance to do so, some members said.

No one called for the vote when he asked if members had any issues, said Planco, who has been president since 2010. But members told DNAinfo New York it wasn't clear from the meeting's agenda when they were supposed to have the floor.

Planco — the only member of the executive board who hasn't resigned in recent weeks — didn't think the vote would have mattered anyway after his presentation.

"I think everyone is on the same side: let's get the club back to where it where it belongs," he said.

Many members were pleased to hear Planco's plans, but not everyone was sold.

"All the things he's promising, why didn't he do any of this all these years?" asked Arlene Harrison, an honorary club member, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association and a trustee of Gramercy Park, who is known as the “Mayor of Gramercy Park."

"The buck stops with him. He has allowed the club to come into such a dire state of affairs," she said, asking how they were to get an estimated $300,000 for the façade work.  "I don't think the closing of the club is a long-shot. I think it's a reality."