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Tower Club members caught by surprise

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The future of The Tower Club atop Hammons Tower is unclear, and members of the dining club were caught off guard by news the restaurant operators planned to close it indefinitely this summer.

The restaurant will not accept reservations beyond June 3, according to a spokeswoman, and the ownership group is considering renovations during the shutdown.

“I didn’t realize they were struggling,” said longtime member Louis Griesemer when informed of the closure plan by a Springfield Business Journal reporter.

Griesemer, president and CEO of Springfield Underground Inc., became a member of the private dining club a few years after its 1987 opening. He visits about twice a month, mostly for business purposes.

Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association has held monthly lunch meetings at The Tower Club for the past 15 years.

“About 20 people have broken the news to me over the last week,” said Crista Hogan, the SMBA’s executive director. “My first reaction was, ‘Darn, what are we going to do now?’ I took it completely for granted.”

The downtown restaurant spans the 21st and 22nd floors of Hammons Tower, 901 St. Louis St., and as the tallest building in Springfield provides 360-degree views of the city and beyond. With floor to ceiling windows, crystal chandeliers and gold accents, it has been the site of countless wedding receptions, corporate meetings and awards banquets over the years.

Tower Club spokeswoman Sheri Smith said the restaurant plans to close due to a need for improvements in “kitchen equipment, such as coolers, freezers and burners, along with flooring.” The club is owned by The Tower Club of Springfield Inc., which Missouri registration filings list Jacquie Dowdy, CEO of John Q. Hammons Hotels and Resorts, and Greggory Groves, the company’s general counsel, as board members.

Other club representatives – General Manager Regan O’Rourke, JQH food and beverage Vice President Rick Beran and sales and revenue Vice President Phill Burgess – did not respond to or declined SBJ’s interview requests.

“The dining areas also are being reviewed for cosmetic updates,” Smith said in an emailed statement. “Extensive capital improvements are required.”

Ownership currently is gathering bids for facility improvements, she said, and once the scope and costs of the improvements are known, a decision would be made about the future of the club.

“I think The Tower Club has been a great place to entertain people since we joined in 2005,” said Matt Gifford, vice president and general manager of the Springfield Cardinals. “It’s a great place to showcase Springfield to people who’ve never been.”

Gifford and the Cardinals last summer held the Texas League All-Star Gala at the club, which brought about 150 players, coaches and front office staff from multiple states. Gifford, who also did not know The Tower Club was closing until SBJ reached him by phone, declined to disclose how many events the team holds at the club.

According to a membership rate sheet from 2012-13 obtained by SBJ, a Tower Club corporate membership good for 10 employees required a $500 initiation fee and a minimum of $200 spent monthly on food. Individual memberships were $150 upfront and minimum spending of $60-$80 per month for food and dues.

SMBA’s next event at The Tower Club is scheduled March 15. Hogan said about 75 lawyers and judges attend the monthly luncheons, and each person covers their meal costs. The bar association does not pay a membership fee to use the space, she said.

“We’ve been doing it so long, I probably received like 20 emails from members or past members of the bar because they so closely associate (The Tower Club) with our monthly gathering,” Hogan said, noting she heard of the closure plans shortly before it was made public. “It really has been an excellent, efficient venue for us, partly because there are 100 lawyers who actually work in that building.”

Hogan said club representatives contacted the bar immediately after the news broke, and they’re helping her find another JQH venue to host the monthly events. A possible site is University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center across St. Louis Street.

The Springfield Contractors Association, which held seven meetings a year at the club the last three years, already had moved to Knights of Columbus Hall in January. SCA Executive Director Kathy Baer said the space wasn’t very conducive to the meetings because of noise that could be heard from other rooms in the club, challenging screen and speaker setup, and the sun making the room too bright. Still, she thinks The Tower Club has a place in the market.

“It’s always sad when an established entity has to close down, but hopefully they’ll make the renovations and reopen,” Baer said.

Hammons Tower property manager Mark Harrell said if The Tower Club closes permanently, he’d start looking for a new tenant. Other tenants in Hammons Tower include Husch Blackwell LLP; Ellis, Ellis, Hammons and Johnson PC; New York Life Insurance Co.; and Central Bank of the Ozarks. Of Hammons Tower’s 220,000 square feet of tenant space, currently 62,000 square feet is available, said Harrell, president of Plaza Realty and Management Services Inc.

The 22-story office building was completed in 1987 by real estate developer John Q. Hammons. He died in 2014 at the age of 96.

Spokeswoman Smith declined to disclose the number of Tower Club employees. Positions include management and administrative jobs, a chef, salespeople, culinary and kitchen support, and banquet staff.

“While an appropriate course of action for The Tower Club is being determined, facility management will be available to assist associates with leveraging potential career opportunities in the community,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, the parent company affiliated with The Tower Club is reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company filed for bankruptcy protection last summer.

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