WETHERSFIELD -- After almost a century of ownership, American Legion Bourne-Keeney Post 23 is selling its building at 275 Main Street in Old Wethersfield.
The post, however, isn't going anywhere. The veterans will rent the building's basement and continue operating from the structure, post Commander Larry Spellacy said.
As of Wednesday, the new owners will be Griffith Academy, which specializes in teaching Irish dance, Spellacy said. The academy has rented the hall for classes since about 1960, he said.
"What we're doing is switching roles," Spellacy said. "Griffith is going to be the landlord, and we're going to be the tenant."
The post decided to sell the building because its membership has fallen dramatically in the last 10 years, making upkeep a growing burden, Spellacy said.
"We didn't want the building to become an empty or blighted property," he said. "All our members are senior citizens except for half a dozen. They want to socialize, but not get involved in running a building."
Spellacy called the arrangement a "triple win:" It enables the legion to stay in the building, gives Griffith a new, consolidated location and fixes up the property, while also putting it back on the tax rolls, he said. As a nonprofit organization, the American Legion is exempt from local property taxes.
Spellacy called the sale a happy and a sad occasion for the post. Members are sad to sell their longtime home, but happy they can stay on -- the first year's rent will be free -- and concentrate on assisting veterans.
"Now we can devote our efforts to the real purpose of the American Legion, which is to help veterans," he said.
Spellacy declined to reveal the sales price Tuesday. Griffith Academy's owners could not be reached for comment.
Spellacy said the academy has begun renovations and plans to move in by September.
Director of Planning and Economic Development Peter Gillespie said the town is pleased with the change of ownership. To facilitate the deal, the town Economic and Development Commission agreed to waive a requirement that the legion pay back $20,000 it received for façade improvements several years ago, he said.
"It's a positive move for the building," Gillespie said. "We certainly don't need another older historic building sitting vacant."
The building was constructed in 1874 as a Baptist Church, Spellacy said. The American Legion Post 23, founded by World War I veterans in 1919, moved into the building in 1921 or 1922, he said.
The post is named after Russell K. Bourne, who was killed in World War I, and Robert Keeney, who died when a Japanese submarine sank his ship, the cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis, in the final days of World War II, Spellacy said.
As the World War II generation has died off, the post's membership has fallen from about 150 to 80, Spellacy said. Veterans of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far shown little interest in joining the American Legion or other veterans groups, he said.