Hot dogs and hamburgers cooking on the grill, baseball being played under the outdoor lights of an adjacent ball field, and the community coming together.
Those are some of the things that Bill Hughes, the newly installed commander of the Quogue Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5350, will miss most about the club’s location on Montauk Highway, which the organization has owned since the early 1960s and recently—and somewhat reluctantly—put on the market for $1.8 million.
“We will die on the vine if we remain where we are,” said Mr. Hughes, a Hampton Bays resident and a former Southampton Town Police lieutenant, during an interview late last week, shortly after listing the property at 125 Montauk Highway with Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
Mr. Hughes, who took over the top post of the 125-member strong veterans organization on April 24, explained that enrollment has been dwindling for years, and VFW leaders believe that the only way to revitalize their group, and turn around declining membership, is to sell their longtime home and move closer to Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.
The plan, according to Mr. Hughes, who took over just prior to the death of former commander David Golder on April 30, is to sell their 4.4-acre property with the intention of using proceeds from the sale to buy another building closer to the airport—possibly the old Finn’s building on Old Riverhead Road in Westhampton Beach. That building is located just south of the airport, which is also the home of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing.
Mr. Hughes, a Vietnam veteran and one of the first members of the Rescue Wing, said he and other VFW officials believe they will have a better shot at recruiting younger members if they move closer to the ANG base, which boasts just slightly more than 1,000 personnel.
“I’m on a mission,” said Mr. Hughes who, at 63, notes that he is one of the youngest members of the Quogue VFW. “I will complete that mission. It’s about the survival of the group.”
Prior to reluctantly listing the property early last week, Mr. Hughes said he reached out to both Quogue Village and Southampton Town officials, asking if either would be interested in buying the property, which is zoned as residential, before it hit the open market. While Quogue Village officials have expressed little interest in the land, Mr. Hughes said Southampton Town officials did recently make an offer, but it was less than the asking price of $1.8 million.
Mr. Hughes declined to say what the town offered for the property, and Mary Wilson, the manager of the town’s Community Preservation Fund, did not return calls this week inquiring about the town’s appraisal of the property.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst also did not return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.
Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius, meanwhile, said he and other members of the Village Board discussed the possibility of buying the property a few months ago but declined to make an offer. “We don’t see a need for it,” Mr. Sartorius said on Friday. “I still don’t.”
But Mr. Hughes argues that the property is a “great community asset” and he would prefer if the town and village could work together to preserve it. He said that private developers have already expressed interest in buying the land and constructing homes there.
A special zoning permit allows the VFW, which is a non-profit organization, to operate on the site. Mr. Hughes did not know if the special zoning permit would carry over to a new owner, however. The property was assessed at $2.26 million last year, according to town records, though the non-profit is exempt from property taxes.
“It has a great history and it’s a great, nostalgic location for those who have played ball on the field,” Mr. Hughes said.
The ball field and picnic tables out back have hosted hundreds of baseball and softball games, as well as countless other community events and fundraisers. The building itself, meanwhile, boasts a bar and kitchen, as well as two large meeting rooms filled with flags and photographs documenting nearly six decades of history.
Mr. Hughes noted that he and other VFW members have not given up hope regarding possibly striking a deal with the town. “We’re looking for enough to get the deal done,” Mr. Hughes said. “It is a simple property to maintain.”
Mr. Hughes stressed that the post is not looking to make a profit on the sale. Rather, the nonprofit is trying to secure enough money so it can buy a new building and also cover required renovations. He explained that money raised by the organization goes to supporting veterans and their families, as well as the youth in the community.
He explained that, if a deal can be struck with the town, the VFW would use the bulk of the proceeds to buy the Finn’s property, which is owned by EK Riverhead Partners LLC. That property is listed for $1.55 million, according to Andrew Edelman, a co-owner of EK Riverhead.
“We’d be very happy to see the VFW move in,” Mr. Edelman said on Tuesday. “We’re very excited about the possibility, and we hope things work out for them.”
Mr. Hughes added that the VFW would have to invest some of the sale proceeds into restoring the building at 101 Old Riverhead Road, which closed as Finn’s in 2012. Subsequent plans to open a barbecue restaurant from the building were derailed after the person leasing the building completed illegal renovations and ignored a pair of work-stop orders issued by the village. The tenant was later evicted from the property, according to Westhampton Beach Building and Zoning Administrator Paul Houlihan, and the building has sat vacant since then.