By TOM RAITHEL, Evansville Courier & Press staff writer

The Petroleum Club - a fixture of Downtown Evansville for 60 years - will close in mid-March without additional financing from its members, an official said Wednesday.

The club's board of governors has sent letters to the members asking them to pay between $100 and $1,000 to keep the club operating.

Without the financing, the club will close March 15, said Alan Shovers, chairman of the club's board of governors.

"We are asking people to vote on whether we should continue, and the way they vote is by writing a check," Shovers said.

The Petroleum Club is housed on the 17th and 18th floors of the former Old National Bank building at 420 Main St. Founded in the local oil boom days in the 1940s, the club originally was in the top floors of the old Citizens Bank building on Fourth and Main streets.

It moved in the late 1960s. The club remained there when Old National moved into its new riverfront headquarters in 2004.

Originally owned by club members, it was sold to Country Clubs of America of Dallas around 1980. But Country Clubs of America, because of the club's financial difficulties, turned it over to local members, who have operated the nonprofit organization since 2000, Shovers said. As recently as 1999, the club had about 1,000 members, but membership has declined in recent years for several reasons, Shovers said. The club lost many members when Old National moved from the building. Competition in the banquet catering and dining area has increased tremendously and Casino Aztar continues to attract meetings and events to its facilities. The club faces increased cost of utilities, food, supplies and labor.

Ideally, the club should have 550 to 600 members, Shovers said. Membership today is about 450. As a result, the club is asking members to pay an assessment, which varies depending on the category of membership, Shovers said.

Half of the assessment is due March 1. The remainder is due April 1. The money will be held until the board determines whether the club has enough financing to keep operating, said Shovers. If it does not, the assessments will be refunded and the club will close March 15.

Shovers said that, among private clubs, assessments "were the rule rather than the exception." The Petroleum Club assessed its members five years ago, although not as much as now. Still, the assessment is small compared to those charged by other clubs, Shovers said.

If the club must close, Shovers said, it has enough financial resources to pay its employees, its debts and refund deposits to those who had scheduled events at the club. It also will help find new locations for those who have scheduled events, Shovers said.

If members pay the assessments, "this should give us another year," Shovers said. At that time, the club may need to do another assessment.

"We need more members and we need more commitment from our members," Shovers said. "If we don't have a good response (to the letter), we'll be very sad to see this (club) close."

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