To stem heavy financial losses, owners of the private Signature Club restaurant on Lansdowne Drive are taking steps to open the restaurant to the public, hoping to attract customers and bring in more money.
The Planning Commission granted the club's request on Thursday to rezone the clubhouse to allow the restaurant to serve the public.
The zone change must receive final approval from the Urban County Council. It's expected to go before council in late April.
The Signature Club of Lansdowne was built by Ron Turner, founder of Amteck of Kentucky, and his son, Troy, owner of Commonwealth Copy Products. It opened in May 2006.
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The Turners are pumping $35,000 a month of their own cash into the restaurant to keep it afloat, said Bruce Simpson, attorney representing the club. The Turners have been doing this for several months.
"It's been very costly. So the option was to do very limited business, or go for a zone change," Simpson said.
When open to the public, the restaurant can advertise, something it was prohibited by law from doing as a private club dining facility.
Going public "does not guarantee them the right to success. They have to compete in the market place," Simpson said. But it gives the Turners "the opportunity to stop the bleeding."
The Turners bought the outdated Lansdowne Club in 2005, tore it down and built The Signature Club of Lansdowne at 3200 Lansdowne Drive. First proposed as a $3 million dining and swim club, costs escalated as the Turners added quality materials and features.
By the time the club opened in May 2006, the total price tag was $9 million.
Facilities include a 16,000-square-foot club house and 8,000-square-foot pool house, a large swimming pool with a water playground for children, fitness center and spa, restaurant and lounge, game room and arcade, ballroom and conference center, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts.
Membership dues range from $1,100 to $2,500 annually. Partial memberships for the restaurant, lounge and special entertainment are $250 a month. The club has 632 members, fewer than when it opened.
Non-members may rent the club facilities, including the ballroom, for weddings, parties and receptions.
The restaurant "did very well" the first year, Simpson said. "I guess it was the newest factor. Probably a lot of members brought guests to dine there."
But with limited membership, "It's hard to have a restaurant be successful when people like to eat at different places," he said.
Declining business also made it hard to keep good servers who depend on tips for the major part of their salary. All in all, he added, "We were at a competitive disadvantage to stay viable."
In order for a private club such as the Idle Hour Country Club or the Lexington Country Club to succeed, Simpson said, "You have to mandate monthly assessments. Whether you eat there or not, you have to pay."
Now Signature Club restaurant will have to find its niche in the local restaurant market. The zone change gives the restaurant "an opportunity to remain open, viable and to stop the bleeding," the attorney said. "You have revenue coming in, and breaking-even is a worthy goal."
Several changes are in the works for the restaurant, including new management and a new menu with entrees priced between $9 and $16, Turner said. "We want to make it more of a family atmosphere."
Except for the faltering restaurant, the financial health of The Signature Club remains sound, he said. "The club does well, but in these economic times, membership at all country clubs has tapered off."
The zone change was supported by the Lansdowne Neighborhood Association that sees the club as a neighborhood asset and wants it to be successful.
President Judy Worth said the Turners agreed to several neighborhood requests including better scheduling to avoid three or four major events happening at the same time creating heavy parking on nearby streets.
Two neighbors on Raven Road, Jack Burchfield and Jean Keating, opposed the zone change, complaining that a public restaurant at the club would exacerbate cars parked on their street from people visiting the cub.
The Lansdowne Club was built in 1958 by J.W. Davis and C.B. McEachin, developers of the Lansdowne subdivision. It was the first Lexington subdivision to have a private swim club.
The club struggled in the 1990s because of aging facilities and declining membership. In 1999, it was bought by an investor group led by Bill and Linda Varney to keep it open until new owners could be found.
Turner, a successful entrepreneur and real estate developer, who grew up in Lansdowne, is well-known in Lexington as the owner of the big white house on Chinoe Road that was decorated with thousands of lights every Christmas. However, Turner put the house up for sale and the light extravaganza was moved to The Signature Club.