The new owners of the Long Island Yacht Club have just wrapped up a Labor Day weekend that featured live music Friday night, dinner and dancing Saturday and a pig roast and kids’ carnival on Sunday. Labor Day brunch followed.
The marina is now filled to capacity, with 11 on the waiting list.
It’s a far cry from when the historic Yacht Club reopened for the first time under new ownership for Memorial Day of 2016, just days after Rick Stettner and business partner Ned Hurley acquired the club on May 17.
In the run-up to that weekend, the big priority was the food. That, and making sure the lawn was cut at 307 Little East Neck Road South.
“The first thing we did was hire a chef and then the chef didn’t show up for Memorial Day, so we had to cook,” Hurley said. “We had a big barbecue, 200 people showed up and Rick and myself had to grill.”
“All while Eric was mowing the lawn,” added Stettner, speaking of his son Eric Stettner, now the Yacht Club’s general manager.
The Long Island Yacht Club was founded in 1958 and counts former longtime Babylon Village resident Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) among its charter members. Before that, the mansion, which reportedly dates to 1911, served as a private residence.
Stettner and Hurley acquired the nearly seven-acre property and its mansion, which had shut down in December 2015, from the nonprofit club for about $2 million.
One of the first things the new owners did — aside from trimming the grass — was blow up the old model of what it means to belong to a yacht club.
“You don’t need a yacht to join,” said Eric Stettner, a 2016 University of Connecticut graduate. “We have about 80 members without boats.”
“But if you want to sail you have access to sailing,” added Hurley.
They also scrapped the $10,000 annual membership in favor of $1,500, and only operate the club full time between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Members get access to the club, pool, tennis courts, sailing, swimming and tennis programs and daily camp activities for kids, as well as steep discounts on docking rights.
“It’s not about how much money you make; it’s about friendship,” said Hurley. “As you get older, sometimes it can be hard to make friends. This is another outlet for people and families to meet other people and hang out without breaking the bank.”
Unlike most yacht clubs, there are no minimums on what people have to spend on drinks or dining, either.
“We do not enforce food or beverage minimums, which is out of the club tradition,” said Rick Stettner. “We wanted to build this on our reputation, and that’s why we have the great chef [Noah Weber] that we have here.”
In its first summer, in 2016, the club finished the season with 62 members. Now there’s 142 members. The goal is to get 300 members signed up, then start up the waiting list. (A household constitutes a member.) There are no residency restrictions.
On the offseason, the club will be available for weddings and other private parties for non-members. And they will be hosting their own events. Some events will be opened to the public and serve as membership drives.
The first such event will be an Oktoberfest party this fall.
“We have the most beautiful wedding venue; seven acres right on the the Great South Bay,” said Hurley. “We can seat 150 people inside and another 400 outside.”
Stettner, who lives in Oakdale, and Hurley, of New York City, have owned and operated Maple Avenue Marina together for some 17 years in Bay Shore.
When they learned of the Yacht Club’s financial troubles in 2015, they jumped.
“We read in Newsday they were having financial problems and called” Commodore Steve Vid, said Hurley.
But Vid told them to get to the back of the list of 40 others who were interested in buying the club and bulldozing it for waterfront townhouses.
“Then I said we’re not interested in that,” said Hurley. “We wanted to keep the club operating.”
Suddenly they were No. 1 on the list; the club’s leaders wanted it to keep operating as a yacht club.
Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino also feared the property would fall to developers.
“My biggest concern was the idea of losing this amenity that we have in the village for development, for housing,” he said. “I was hoping that someone would take it over” and revitalize the facility with the idea of attracting younger families.
“And that’s what these people did and they have done a great job,” he said. “It just has that different atmosphere. You can go down there and have a cocktail, then have a great dinner and with that scenic view overlooking the Great South Bay it’s just a great place to be.”
A tentative deal between the club and Stettner and Hurley reached in the fall but it took those next months to finalize and organize a vote of the board for approval.
Then the renovations began. The main building’s ballroom and bar and lounge areas have been completely redone, along with all-new HVAC systems. The property has been cleaned up outside. the sailing program was resurrected, as well as all the kids’ programs.
The club now has a swim team, sailing team and tennis team. They even hosted a successful regatta this summer.
“We recognized early on that this was a tremendous asset to the community, as opposed to it going to development,” said Rick Stettner. “With over 30 years combined in the recreational marina business, we knew it would have been a sin to let this property go to 16 or 18 individuals.
“We wanted it to be accessible to 300, 400 people with access to the Great South Bay and all that comes with it.”