After the Hartford (Conn.) Courant editorialized against a $100,000 grant for the business club from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development as “a poor decision and tone-deaf to the state’s fiscal and social realities,” National Club Association President/CEO Henry Wallmeyer charged the newspaper with relying on “clichéd and obsolete characterizations” and ignoring private clubs’ contributions and important roles.
After the Hartford (Conn.) Courant editorialized against a decision by the Connecticut state Department of Economic and Community Development to issue a $100,000 grant to help refurbish The Hartford Club, the capital city’s 144-year-old business club, National Club Association President and CEO Henry Wallmeyer responded with a letter and LinkedIn post that charged the Courant with missing the mark and expressing a viewpoint that showed “a lack of familiarity with both The Hartford Club and private clubs in general.”
C&RB reported at the end of July (http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2017/07/hartford-conn-club-gets-boost-state/) on the grant announcement that prompted the Courant‘s editorial, which was headlined “No Tax Dollars for Private Club” (see below for the full content of the editorial).
The Courant’s editorial relied on “cliched and obsolete characterizations,” Wallmeyer wrote in his rebuttal, and also “ignored the important social and economic role that private clubs play in communities across America.”
“Contrary to the Courant’s assertion,” Wallmeyer wrote, “The Hartford Club isn’t merely ‘a retreat for the well-healed.’ In fact, the editorial links to an earlier Courant article about the state loan that paints a compelling portrait of an organization that has evolved into a modern, welcoming club offering diversity in both its membership and in the types of programs it offers its members.
“The editorial also ignores the economic impact that private clubs like The Hartford Club have on their local communities,” Wallmeyer wrote. “In fact, private clubs play an important role, both locally and nationally, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans [whom clubs often pay better than comparable positions at local restaurants, hotels and recreational businesses] and injecting $21 billion into the national economy every year.
“The Hartford Club is a small business that employs local residents, supports other area businesses by utilizing their products and services, and contributes to the tax bases of both the city and the state,” Wallmeyer’s response continued. “These are precisely the types of benefits the state Department of Economic and Community Development is trying to foster through this grant program.
“Unlike many recipients, the club’s building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” he added. “No funds received from the state are to be used to pay tax obligations, but rather are committed to restoration of the historic building.
“By supporting the club’s revival, the state is supporting a small business with an important history in Hartford and an even more important economic impact,” Wallmeyer concluded. “Thankfully, the state sees the club in a modern light, and that will mean great things for Hartford and the club in the months and years to come. Isn’t that exactly what economic development funds are for?”
The Courant’s editorial was published on August 6th and read as follows:
“The state Department of Economic and Community Development has a noble mission: It offers businesses in Connecticut millions of dollars of assistance in loans and grants every year, with the goal of stimulating the state’s economy and bringing jobs to communities. So why is it trying to save an old private club?
“A $100,000 grant to refurbish the Hartford Club is a poor decision and tone-deaf to the state’s fiscal and social realities.
“To be sure, the grant accompanies a $300,000 loan, and the club, which has been an institution in Hartford for nearly a century and a half, badly needs the money. It owes $312,000 in back taxes to the city. Its membership has shrunk to 475 from the 1,300 it boasted in 1998. It is paying its taxes now, but it needs an influx of members to keep afloat. Renovations to the club are said to be crucial to the effort.
“It nearly closed in 2015 when it couldn’t pay its bills, until it was rescued by a couple of philanthropists, 50 members and a hearty million-dollar fundraising effort.
“Under the terms of the state’s “Small Business Express” loan program, the club must retain 20 employees and add five more.
Invest In The Future, Not The Past
“Even under normal circumstances, one might reasonably question whether five jobs are worth a $100,000 taxpayer-funded grant and $300,000 loan. But this isn’t a normal business. This is a private club that costs a lot of money every year to enjoy. It’s a retreat for the well-heeled, even if they aren’t all white men, as in days of yore. It’s a back room with back rooms. Why should the average taxpayer have to pay to get this institution out of hock?
“If its membership is waning, isn’t that a sign that its time is past? Why should taxpayers keep the club on life support just for those who can afford it?
“Yes, it’s a gracious building, built in the city’s heyday, and its historic and architectural value is unquestioned. But perhaps it should belong to a small-business entrepreneur rather than to a private-membership society — or to the University of Connecticut, which could make better use of the building, especially once UConn’s Hartford branch opens just down the street in a few months.
“In any event, there is no doubt that the loan and grant package would be better spent encouraging new and minority-owned businesses in the city. Hartford needs to change, grow and adapt to changing demographic and financial realities, not cling to a bygone era.
“The Hartford Club is rooted in Connecticut’s past — and if the club can’t pay its bills, the past is where it belongs.”