Like many Oak Parkers, a local nonprofit is seeking a way to get out from under a hefty property tax bill. But unlike most, the Nineteenth Century Club’s tab was huge – about $60,000 per year — and a surprise as the bill came after the group had been considered exempt from property taxes for 80 years.

Since opening the doors of its venerable Forest Avenue facility in 1927, the charitable organization had been exempt from property taxes. The club was flabbergasted in 2008, when it received a $90,000 property tax bill from the county for the previous year. It’s still unclear how the bill came about, but the group is hoping to reinvent itself as a different organization and in the process eliminate the burdensome tax bill.

“Otherwise, we would truly be out of business in three years,” said Mila Tellez, president of the club’s board and a member of the Oak Park public library board. “Oh yes, we could not afford something like that to continue, and Oak Park would be the loser here.”

The club was able to make the tax payments through a sizeable donation, dipping into reserves and cutting staff, but Tellez said it can only continue paying taxes for so long.

The Nineteenth Century Club, 178 Forest Ave., was founded in 1891, working to promote philanthropy and education through scholarships and programs. They also have a sizeable banquet facility, and the Oak Park Township assessor has speculated that renting out that portion of the building for events may have triggered the loss of the tax exempt status.

Starting in April, the organization split itself into two separate entities — the club and the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association. The club then started renting space from the association under the new arrangement. Tellez says the club is shifting its focus, offering portions of the building up for rent to local nonprofits, such as the Oak Park Women’s Guild, and it will continue offering grants, too. With the new association, people who make donations to the club can write those contributions off on their taxes, which they couldn’t do before.

Club officials plan to submit an application to the Internal Revenue Service today, Oct. 20, to become a 501(c)(3) charitable organization under the new association. Assuming the club garners the changed status, club officials plan to bring the new tax status to the county to try and regain its tax-exempt status.

“We’re think it’s a pretty strong case; we’ve spent a lot of time forming the organization correctly,” said Georga Parchem, a board member and head of the committee that’s spearheading the transition.

The club “moniker” may make the group sound exclusive, but Tellez said the shifted focus has brought new energy there. The club has received 40 new members since April, tipping it over 200.

“I think it has reinvigorated people,” she said. “This charitable association is a new day for the Nineteenth Century Club.”

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