Landlord wants model RR club out, but deed clause may stop him in his tracks

Since 1937, when the New York Central Railroad handed it over to a group of train enthusiasts, the Kingston Model Railroad Club has called a converted tool-shed at the end of Pine Grove Avenue home. But their seven-decade residency may be coming to a close as the hobbyists fight to stave off eviction. Club officials say that they can no longer afford the roughly $10,000 in annual rent owed to property owner Eleven Main Group LLC.

The club makes nearly all of its money from its annual open house, a longstanding holiday season tradition that draws hundreds of visitors to see the club’s sprawling and exquisitely detailed layout. But with attendance declining and just 30 members to contribute dues, club treasurer Gary Patrik said this week that the rent is unsustainable.

“The problem is the economy, and I guess people are not as into trains as they were in the past,” said Patrik. “We’re going broke, we’ll be bankrupt in two or three years.”

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The club’s dire fiscal situation has been brewing since April when Patrik informed the landlord that the club couldn’t sustain its financial obligation. According to Patrik, Eleven Main Group owner Mike Ferraro offered to drop the annual fee to $7,500, but even at that price, Patrik said, the club could not sustain itself for more than a few years. Then came the notice of eviction, as of Jan. 1. The club fought back by hiring an attorney and seeking a temporary restraining order and clarification of the club’s status on the property. (Ferraro declined to comment for this article, citing the pending litigation.)

That’s when attorney Jim Melbert dug into county records and found what could be the railroad club’s salvation: a deed filed in 1989 and another from 1998 which he argues gives the model railroad club the right to occupy the property in perpetuity for an annual fee of $1,000. The relevant language — “It is subject to the right of the model railroad club to occupy [the building] under an oral lease at an annual rent of $1,000,” — was left out of the deed filed when the Eleven Main Group bought the property in 2002. But, Melbert said, his reading of the law indicates that the clause served as a covenant attached to the property and remains in effect.

Featured image: Model trains at the Kingston Model Railroad Club’s open house. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)