HUNTSVILLE – The fate of Chaffey Hall is still uncertain, but maybe not for long.
Betsy Brooks, president of the Huntsville Lions Club, said the service group is in the process of negotiating a deal with the Town of Huntsville to transfer ownership of the community hall to the club for a nominal fee, which would prevent the town from selling or demolishing it.
“I think it will work really well. We’re hoping it will,” said Brooks. “It gives us a chance to try and make a go of it and keep the club alive.”
Chaffey Hall, in Huntsville’s north end near Hutcheson Memorial Cemetery, has been the home of the Lions club for about 30 years. The club hosts its own events in the hall and acts as the rental agent for various other groups and individuals who want to use it.
The club has also funded maintenance and repairs on the building in the past.
But the town started investigating whether it would divest itself of all the community halls in the municipality last spring after its solicitor raised insurance and liability concerns.
The investigation determined that the town should get rid of Chaffey Hall.
However, the town started negotiating with the Lions club on a deal to keep the hall in the hands of the club, while avoiding liability and insurance issues.
The club sent a letter to the town in November expressing an interest in assuming the building.
The deal would see the Lions purchase the hall from the town for a nominal fee. The club would have to provide its own insurance, but would operate the building and retain full control of the finances and programming, according to a staff report submitted to the town’s community services committee on Jan. 15.
The town, in return, would provide an annual grant of $11,577 for hall operations over a period of five years, which is equivalent to what it budgeted in 2012 for the building’s operation.
The town would have first refusal to purchase the building should the club decide to sell it in future, states the report.
But the deal would be about more than the building.
Brooks said retaining the hall would ensure the club’s continued existence.
“If we had to vacate the hall right now, it would probably have killed the club,” she said.
The club was in dire straights last June, she said. Declining membership nearly led to the club’s collapse.
Over the last five months, however, six new members have joined and the club is becoming more vibrant.
If the club had lost the hall, it would not have had a place to hold its meetings and it would have lost the inspiring atmosphere that exists in a building filled with Lions memorabilia and history.
But for now, at least tentatively, it does not look as though the Lions will lose their den.
It may hold onto the hall with the help of partners, such as the Huntsville Community Theatre Group, which now uses the hall as its studio theatre.
“It looks as if, with the help of the Huntsville Community Theatre Group and the rental it is generating, it will be quite viable for the club,” said Brooks.
“Certainly, for a few years we’ll make a go of it. Hopefully, it will work really well,” she added.