The Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County has entered into a contract to purchase the Elks Lodge on Riverside Drive, with an expected closing date in early May.
“When the opportunity became available, we felt like the time was right,” said Junior League President Julia Greene.
The move into the new digs is reflective of the growth the Junior League has experienced in recent years as it promotes voluntarism among women at local nonprofit agencies. It now has about 400 active and supporting members.
The move also is a sign of the dwindling ranks of the local Elks Club.
“The membership has declined from 500 when I first joined back in 2005 down to about 120,” said Elks Club Exalted Ruler Larry Ginsberg.
The lodge was built in 2002, but Ginsberg said that membership dues would have to be “exorbitant” to continue ownership of the property. While declining to give financial details of the sale, Ginsberg said they were offering it to the Junior League “well under” market value.
The Junior League has said it will allow the Elks Club to meet in a room at the lodge for six months after the property is sold, and then negotiate a fee for renting the space going forward.
“We are not disbanding,” Ginsberg said. “The Elks are going to continue to do the charitable works we’ve been doing around Gainesville since it began.”
The club’s work is primarily supported through the national organization based in Chicago, and Ginsberg said the Elks would continue to provide scholarships for students, host Veterans Day and Memorial Day events, as well as support local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.
Meanwhile, the lodge will provide the Junior League with more office and meeting space to conduct its community outreach programs, and Greene said several renovations would be made. That means the big, stuffed buck head in the foyer, as well as pictures and name plates of past Elks Club members, will be taken down.
Some residents of Riverside Drive have questioned whether the Junior League is allowed to operate at the lodge.
Gainesville Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said the property is zoned residential but allows for a special use by nonprofits, such as the Junior League.
“As long as it is a club or lodge and they are a nonprofit, they would be allowed to continue there,” Ligon said, adding that no rezoning is necessary.
The Junior League supports such local nonprofits through its Done in a Day project, including Challenged Child and Friends, the Good News Community Health Center, Gateway House, the Edmondson Telford Center for Children and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
The Junior League also holds fundraisers to support the missions of these organizations and awards a Signature Grant every five years to a local nonprofit organization or project supported by the group. In 2011, the League awarded $50,000 to the Gateway Domestic Violence Center.
Acquiring the 10,000-square-foot lodge will help the Junior League expand its mission, grow its membership and better serve local nonprofits.
“I think it helps give us some identity,” Greene said.