The VIP Country Club in New Rochelle has been sold for $20 million just weeks after the deal had collapsed in a contract dispute.
Westchester Shores Event Holdings Inc., which is affiliated with the Mata Amritanandamayi Center, or MA Center, in Castro Valley, California, is the new owner of the New Rochelle events center and beach and tennis club.
The MA Center owns the 10.5-acre property at 600 Davenport Ave. and Westchester Shores will run the business.
“We selected a buyer who is going to continue to operate the VIP exactly as it is,” said Mike Morelli, the former president, who has been asked to stay on and run the business.
His family has operated the country club for 21 years and Morelli wants to see it continue for another 21. “We wanted to hold on to the legacy we built,” he said.
The club is on Davenport Neck, a promontory jutting into New Rochelle Harbor that has been a popular site for beach clubs since the 1940s. Children whose parents brought them to the VIP 20 years ago now bring their children.
The panoramic view of the Long Island Sound has also made the club a popular banquet venue for weddings, proms and corporate events.
Strictly speaking, beach clubs may cater only to members or member-sponsored events, and only during the winter months. But events are held year-round, creating traffic and noise that has irritated nearby residents.
New Rochelle is trying to transition Davenport Neck from beach clubs to multifamily housing. That is what Zinrock Resources LP is doing at the southern tip where it is building 72 condominiums.
Beach clubs are losing their allure in the New York region but the VIP is staying the course.
“What they’re going to be doing is basically the same,” said Richard B. Sandow, a Pittsburgh attorney who represents the buyer. “It will be the same management, the same chef, Nicholas Lagalante, the same people in charge. But there will be more financial support, so it can be bigger and better than ever.”
The buyer plans to upgrade the facilities and develop a marketing plan to attract more customers.
Morelli said membership in the beach and tennis club has increased by 35 percent this year, mostly from former Beckwith Pointe members. The demise of Beckwith, which hosted about 200 events a year, could also benefit the VIP.
The deal was brokered by Rajeev Chennattu of Regency Commercial Real Estate and closed on April 13.
Chennattu said MA Center will probably use the VIP occasionally as an East Coast retreat. Every summer, for instance, the founder and Hindu spiritual leader, Mata Amritanandamayi visits the U.S. and attracts throngs of devotees.
The MA Center in California is a satellite ashram of a global charity based in southern India. But the VIP, under Westchester Shores will be run as a for-profit company, Sandow said.
Chennattu said the MA Center approached him 10 years ago to find an East Coast location, but he was unable to find a suitable property.
Morelli hired him in 2014 to find a buyer for the country club. Chennattu was constrained, though, because the club didn’t want to put the property on the open market and risk losing event bookings.
He saw the potential for the MA Center, and this time the organization was ready to buy.
The Aqua Club, corporate owner of the VIP, and the MA Center negotiated a $15 million deal in 2015. But negotiations broke down, according to a lawsuit filed by Aqua Club in February, due to MA’s “aggressive and offensive tactics.”
When Beckwith Pointe got the city to rezone its property to allow condominiums, that made the other beach club properties more valuable, Chennattu said.
Sandow negotiated a $20 million deal in October but did not immediately disclose that Westchester Shores was financed and controlled by the MA Center. Morelli discovered the connection in January and sued.
Morelli said the lawsuit brought everyone back to the table. “It was a means to an end.”
Sandow said the lawsuit made the dispute more difficult to resolve.
But in the end, the parties made the deal.
“We never intended to sell out to a developer,” Morelli said. “It just wasn’t what the family was interested in doing.
“We wanted to continue the legacy.”