Future of Williams Club remains uncertain

Debate surrounding the future of Williams in New York (WNY) this semester has coincided with negotiations regarding the ownership of the Williams Club facility, the building that houses WNY, have been taking place as well. According to Vice President for Operations Steve Klass, members of the president’s staff are currently considering an offer made by the Williams Club social organization, the current holder of the facility, to transfer ownership of the property to the College.

Currently, the Williams Club facility houses three entities: the WNY academic program, the Williams Club, a social organization for Williams alumni, parents, faculty and staff, and the Williams Club hospitality organization, which consists of a hotel and a restaurant with the capacity to host several sponsored events per year. The Club was founded in 1913, and moved to its current location on East 39th Street in uptown Manhattan in 1921.

A full-scale renovation of the Club facilities in 1988 was supported by a mortgage still held by the College today. Klass explained that order for the College to grant the Club both financial support and flexibility, as well as ensure the mutually beneficial nature of its relationship with the Club, Williams is the holder of this mortgage. “The Williams Club reimburses us for these debt payments to the degree possible,” Klass said. “It’s their building. We just hold the mortgage.”

According to Klass, since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when the hospitality industry took a major hit, the survival of the Williams Club hospitality organization as a self-sustaining financial operation has been tenuous. “As an operation it’s once again holding its own, but not at a rate that it can consistently break even without the College helping it out with some subsidization of the mortgage,” Klass said.

In order to pay off its obligation to the College, the board of Williams Club members that oversees the operations of the Club has offered to transfer ownership of the facility itself to the College in lieu of making further payments on the mortgage. According to Klass, the building is currently expected to be of greater financial value to the College than the mortgage, but he could not discuss specifics of finances since the potential real estate transaction is ongoing.

Klass has been working closely with Vice President for Alumni Relations Steve Birrell and Provost Bill Lenhart to work out the financial logistics of the transaction, which include determining the need for a possible future home for WNY and the implications for both the alumni organization and the College itself if it were to receive the donation of the facility. “It’s something that we’d like to have figured out before the end of this fiscal year,” Klass said. “Then the president’s staff will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees, who will make the final decision.”

Despite its pivotal role in the WNY program’s current configuration, Klass emphasized that consideration of the ownership of the facility were intentionally minimized throughout the debate of the program’s future. “Figuring out the academic program piece was the most important thing,” he said. “Since it doesn’t have to happen in this building, so it was easiest to keep it separate.”