Southampton Town has put out a request for bids to gut the former Conscience Point Inn nightclub in North Sea and shore up the building’s exterior, the first step in what could be a restoration of the historic boat-building shop.
Historians refer to the former nightclub as the Tupper Boathouse, for its original owners and use. Earlier this year, the town’s Landmarks Board recommended that the town preserve the structure rather than raze it, as had been considered by other town committees after it was damaged in Superstorm Sandy.
But proceeding with a renovation would require substantial financial hurdles, and the question of what purpose the building would serve if it is restored still remains.
“It has a really interesting marine history, and there seems to be some consensus to ensure that the building at least stays intact and maintaining it into the future in as close to its original form as possible,” Councilman Chris Nuzzi said. “What uses come out of it after it is refurbished remain to be seen. Whatever they will be, we want them to complement the area.”
Board members have discussed a variety of potential uses for the structure, from a headquarters for the local Sea Scouts ship, to boat building programs, to a museum. A facilities use committee is currently exploring the feasibility of several of the considerations.
A full rehabilitation and renovation of the building, which needs a new roof and siding, as well as a full electrical system and other utilities, could cost upward of $600,000, a pricey undertaking in a town where fiscal austerity has ruled the day through several budget cycles.
The work the town is now soliciting would gut the inside of the building, removing walls and rooms created for the nightclub use and ripping out damaged utilities. The structure must also be shored up so that it is weatherproof. Director of Municipal Works, Christine Fetten, estimated the work would cost between $30,000 and $50,000.
Beyond that work, the town faces a series of decisions about how to proceed. The flooding from Sandy emphasized that if the building is to remain, and be used again, it needs to be raised above flood waters. The FEMA flood level for the region is about 2 feet above where the building sits now. Raising it could cost as much as $450,000; the town has applied for a grant through New York State for funding from the Sandy aid packages.
Ms. Fetten said she has estimated a new roof would cost $80,000; siding, $55,000; new windows and doors, another $55,000; and as much as another $100,000 for interior renovations, depending on what use it is to be put to.
The building was flooded and damaged last year during Superstorm Sandy, for which the town received $102,000 in insurance money.
The town purchased the building in 2003 using money from the Community Preservation Fund to bring to an end its rowdy tenure as a nightclub. It is most famous as the spot where wealthy Manhattan socialite Lizzie Grubman, angered by a bouncer’s insistence that she move her SUV, backed up the vehicle at high speed into a crowd of partiers waiting to get into the club, sending 16 to the hospital.
But the building, which sits just yards from the original landing site of Southampton’s first English settlers in 1640, was constructed in 1929 by boat builder Edwin Tupper, and for decades housed Tupper Motorcraft Inc. The club’s dance floor encompassed what originally was three boat construction bays, linked to the nearby waterfront by a rail system on which boats could be slid into the water.
Because the property was purchased with CPF money, there are limitations on what the town can use the building for. And because restoration of the building was not part of the original prospectus for the purchase—the Town Board was not aware at the time of the building’s history—town officials do not believe that CPF funds could be used now for restoring the structure. Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone said this week that the town expects to have to rely on grant funding for most of the costs if a restoration is undertaken.
“The town cannot afford to put all the money into this refurbishment that is required here—I doubt taxpayers would support that,” Mr. Zappone said. “There is grant funding out there, and this building does have some local historical significance. But grants are not a sure thing, since they are competitive by nature.”
At a recent Town Board work session, members of the North Sea community asked that the board find a way to refurbish the building and find a use for it that hearkened back to its original uses.
Sea Scouts volunteer Mark Matthews said the Scouts program is already looking to start a boat-building program at the Southampton Historical Museum, and the Tupper Boathouse building would be an ideal location for that program to be expanded into in the future, he said.
“We had hoped [the use] would focus on the maritime aspect of its history and its location,” Mr. Matthews said. “It would be on the ground floor, a fairly inexpensive interior finish. It can go back to what it was designed for.”