GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids social club displaced by fire is one step closer to having a new permanent home.

Thursday, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved a special land use permit for Sophisticated Gentleman and Ladies Auxiliary Club to move its operations, including alcohol sales, live entertainment and outdoor activities, into a different building on the property at 1439 Eastern Ave. SE.

The Sophisticated Gentleman and Ladies Auxiliary Club started 20 years ago and has about 70 members, according to club president Jeffery Kimbrel.

“Our standard is in the community for the community,” he said, adding that they operate quietly without any noise complaints.

Kimbrel said all members must be age 35 or older and most members are business owners. While the club is not a legally recognized nonprofit organization, members say they operate like one by helping community members in need, including children.

“Not one day goes past where a person doesn’t knock on the door and ask for help, whether it’s gas, or they’re homeless or they need something to eat, we open our doors to them,” Kimbrel said.

A February 2020 fire destroyed the building that originally housed the club and a business owned by Kimbrel, called Painting by Jeffrey. But Kimbrel says that didn’t stop them from helping their neighbors.

“Even burned up, we stood on the corner of Eastern and Oakdale and we passed out baskets and personals, took those who was in need and we gave out bags to the kids and we do school supplies and again this time it was actually burned out. So we never stopped,” he told the planning commission.

The club had been using a portion of the building that wasn’t damaged by the fire, as well as a portion of the burned building’s foundation as an outdoor area for meetings. However, the temporary space’s capacity is limited to about 55 people.

Sophisticated Gentleman and Ladies Auxiliary Club now wants to move into another building on the property that was previously used for storage. The nearly 2,500-square-foot space will include a new restroom and exit corridor, with ample space to accommodate the 125-130 people the club expects inside its doors.

“They treat us like family and it’s a good place to be. So when it burned down, kinda hurt us. And when he (Kimbrel) said he was rebuilding we were so anxious,” said club member Fred Taylor. “These are good people. They treat us like family members. And I also want to say I personally lost family members and I watched him take up collections to help families and give out his building, place of business for people who passed away and let them mourn together as a whole.”

“Just being a part of something that’s a group and whole, I wouldn’t want to be a part of nothing else. And I just really hope that we can rebuild,” said a woman who identified as one of the club’s first female members. “We just ready to rebuild and let his heart extend even more.”

The Sophisticated Gentleman and Ladies Auxiliary Club also plans to improve the outdoor space it created atop the foundation of the now-demolished building, which will have artificial grass, potted plants, benches, a bike rack and fencing when complete.

The planning commission also approved allowing Jeffery Kimbrel to use a portion of the renovated building as offices and storage for his painting business.

“I wish I was 35 but I’m not. Not yet at least, but I’m marking my calendar,” planning commission member Lawrence Williams said with a laugh. “I just appreciate just what this business is doing in the community, just helping out the kids. I’m no longer a kid but I was one of those kids in the community that needed help, that needed support systems that needed people there. And to know that there are still good people in the world I think is just a good thing. So just for the record, I just wanted to acknowledge that. I’m very much in support of this.”