By Sabina Mollot
The Players club, which for the past year has been struggling to stay afloat after having fallen up to $4 million in debt, has appointed a new president, replacing its longtime leader Johnnie Planco.
The new president and CEO is Arthur Makar, the executive director of nonprofit organization Fight for Sight, the club announced to members this week. He was elected to the position by the club’s all-volunteer board. They also elected attorney James L. Larocca, who’s also a playwright and actor, to a newly created position of chairman of the board. Planco has remained on as a board member.
The elections came a year after the club admitted to members just how deeply in debt the historic institution was. Many blamed then-Executive Director John Martello, who was soon ousted, though he’d blamed the economy for the club’s dwindling membership.
The financial problems led to stoppage of work on the club building’s landmarked facade, failure to make payroll on several occasions and owing so much to the government in taxes and fines and in payments to vendors that even Planco admitted he didn’t know the full amount.
But some club members came to the rescue, giving cash gifts and loans, and the club formed a “strategic turnaround committee” with the goal of reforming the administration and enriching the programming. The plan, said the club in its emailed announcement, was unanimously adopted by the board “on an urgent basis” and presented to members at a meeting last Thursday.
In an official statement, Makar said, “I am committing the new leadership team to the highest standards of integrity and accountability, transparency, collegiality, and creativity in updating programs and services and building a strong future for the club we love. Even with our incredibly rich history to date, our best days lie ahead.”
Makar, a veteran of the nonprofit sector, also sits on the board of the Cherry Lane Theater.
Part of the turnaround plan also includes improving the club’s restaurant service, which Makar called “a priority.” In its most recent city inspection, on March 12, the club received a C grade for six sanitary violations, including evidence of live mice and improper storage of food.
“It’s kind of a hard sell to say, ‘Come dine in our fabulous C-rated club,” he told Town & Village. “We have to get it up to an A.”
Other priorities, he said, are to bring more industry types in as members and to improve and expand the programming. In recent months, there’s been more of a focus on events and a few parties recently packed the place, including one celebrating the roaring 20s.
Additionally, work has resumed on the Gramercy Park South building’s facade, and Makar said the scaffolding may come down later this week.
Cheering Makar’s election was Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, who’d been a vocal critic of Planco for not stepping down amidst the cub’s financial woes.
“The election of Makar and his new leadership team is an important first step in the club’s turnaround, and we are optimistic for the first time in a long time about the club’s future,” she said.
In related news, the club’s board also appointed three new officers last week and also voted to recognize Planco as “prince of the Players,” according to one source. However, the club source added, that vote has since been withdrawn with regards to the departing president, after some members complained that the title should be reserved for the club’s founder, actor Edwin Booth.
Makar didn’t want to comment on this, but said Planco was okay with Makar’s taking over, and was one of the board members who’d voted him into the role.
By Sabina Mollot