Gramercy Park Block Association - Neighborhood News #343
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Director gone from Players, club prez says goal is to get club 'full' again  


"There are a number of people with deep pockets who were prepared to help the club get back on its feet. But only if the entire executive committee, which is made up of seven of the board members, is also made to step down."
 Arlene Harrison, GPBA President

 

Later, Harrison blasted the press conference as a sham since Planco still wasn't getting into specifics about the club's financial status.

 

"The press conference was symbolic of how they operate," she said. "The lack of transparency and stonewalling."

Photo by Sabina Mollot  

The Players President Johnnie Planco holds a press conference about the ongoing financial problems at the club on Monday at the club's Grill Room. 

By Sabina Mollot

The Players club, which ousted its executive director of nearly 20 years, John Martello, on Friday, is already in the process of finding his replacement, as well as trying to come up with ways to boost membership numbers, its president, Johnnie Planco, said on Monday.


The president, who, like the rest of the club's 21-member board of directors, normally refuses to do any press, made the announcement at a press conference on Monday.


He also answered questions about the club's current financial situation - saying at this point the club is no longer in "imminent danger" though there was enough debt he that he admitted he didn't even know how much.


"There's no official number," he told reporters while sitting in the club's Grill Room.

He declined to get into specifics of Martello's leaving his position other that to reiterate an official statement made on Friday that he'd resigned.


But others speaking on the condition of anonymity later told Town & Village a different story  - that Martello walked in Friday believing he still had a job though only a night earlier, members and employees were toasting his departure at the bar. The decision to have him resign is said to have occurred at an internal club meeting

on Wednesday evening.

 


The board's decisions were also called into question by Arlene Harrison, the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, who'd showed up at the club on Monday. Harrison told Planco she heard that The Players' debt was close to $3 million and that she knew of a number of people with deep pockets who were prepared to help the club get back on its feet. But only, she stressed, if the entire executive committee, which is made up of seven of the board members, is also made to step down.


"We have a billionaire group from France who wants to come and help them and we told them, 'You can't come yet because the executive committee must step down before anyone can come in with money.'"


Not surprisingly, Planco responded that "I don't necessarily agree with that."


Later, Harrison blasted the press conference as a sham since Planco still wasn't getting into specifics about the club's financial status.


"The press conference was symbolic of how they operate," she said. "The lack of transparency and stonewalling."


As Town & Village has previously reported, the club's executive committee has come under fire for supporting Martello and for having relationships with the institution that could be considered a conflict of interest. The two vice presidents, James Fenniman and Ann Vellis, sell insurance to the club and another executive member, Glenn Kalison, has employed Martello as a New York Film Academy teacher. Another board member, David Staller, holds monthly Project Shaw plays at the club where his theater company, not the club sells tickets, although he's begun paying the club $200 per event.


On Tuesday
, an anonymous petition started circulating around the neighborhood, demanding a club meeting in which the executive committee members would be told to step down.


On Monday, when asked about the concerns some members have about the executive committee, Planco said that in the future the club would be more transparent in its financial dealings and that existing business deals involving members would be "readdressed." They also, he said, might be "renegotiated. All of this has to be done retroactively. It's a mammoth job at the moment. 
 
The Players Club Library

Transparency has been an issue that has been brought up for at least two years," admitted Planco.  

 

He also said the club currently had three priorities: to secure outside financing, to earn the goodwill of members and to get the club back into a place where it's "full."

 

As far as finding Martello's replacement, Planco said the club was in the process of forming a committee to find a general manager or someone to hold a position that wouldn't necessarily be executive director, and that there would also be some additional re-staffing.

 

Planco said that financially things were already looking up with the club with the place scheduled to host at least 20 events throughout the month of April. And Martello's practice of giving away event rental space? "That," said Planco, "will no longer be the case."

 

When asked, the club leader admitted that even though the club's audit committee had dropped a bombshell report at a meeting four weeks ago in which it was disclosed that many bills were going unpaid and event organizers weren't being charged for use of club space, the board did already know about the Players' financial woes.

 

"They were aware that the club had financial issues for years," said Planco. On the sudden decision to remove Martello, Planco would only say, "It's like when you throw a stone in water and there's a ripple. In John's case the ripple kept getting larger."

 

With a recent infusion of cash from a $250,000 loan taken out by the club against one of its John Singer Sargent paintings, some outstanding bills have been taken care of, such as the Con Ed bill and employees' paychecks. More money will still need to be raised though, including for continued work on the building's crumbling landmarked facade. After Gramercy Park residents noticed that work had stopped on the project, Martello explained that the workers just weren't working during the winter and would be back. Planco, however, said at this point getting the workers back was in fact a financial issue. "It's temporarily on hold," he said. 

 

As has also been reported by T&V, it was the club's loyal members that kept propping up the club for years through large loans and gifts whenever there was some sort of financial emergency. The largest known loan from a member was for $2 million. One gift from a former member for fixing up an office was $60,000. Yet another member personally repaired the water-damaged Grill Room after an oversized ceiling panel came crashing down during a dinner. Martello has said the club was doing poorly because membership took a nosedive during the recession.

 

On Monday, Planco echoed Martello's goal of getting the club's numbers back up, specifically to 1,000. Currently, dues are around $2,000 a year and according to Planco's figures, there are around 550 members, although that number tends of fluctuate.

A member who spoke with T&V, however, on the condition of anonymity, said the club still is very much in danger of closing and that "no one would trust the executive committee" in its decision to hire a general manager. "If they bring in a consultant, you want to know what are their qualifications or how much are they being paid," the member said. "They're just going to blame the union workers and dishwashers and exonerate the people paying them."

 

According to a bartender employed at The Players who also represents the union that employs the club's bar and wait staff, Joe Canela, a consultant has already been hired, "and we are not at a stage where can be paying a consultant," he said. Meanwhile, he said, he too has been talking to people who'd be willing to help the club financially, including one celebrity he declined to name, but only if the executive committee is gone. "We almost have a Mexican standoff here," said Canela. "We'll see how it goes. We're just watching and waiting."

 

Meanwhile, the club got some friendly advice from a neighbor, Dianne Bernhard, the president of the National Arts Club. When asked if she thought the club would come out of its current financial mess okay, she said, "I do."

 

She added, "It's just going to take a determined team. I feel Gramercy Park has strong bones. I don't think that the neighbors would let it go."

 

Another plan for The Players, though it wasn't mentioned at the meeting, as a potential income-earner or otherwise, is to offer public tours of the club building, which was built in 1840 and includes a well-preserved room where founder Edwin Booth lived in his final years. With wallpaper stained with cigar smoke and a human skull on display that had been a prop in plays, the room also includes his bed and the wreath from his coffin.