After nearly a century of managing its trails, huts, outdoor activities, and conservation efforts from a group of brick bowfronts on Beacon Hill, the Appalachian Mountain Club said Monday it has sold its headquarters there and is hunting for a bigger space in Boston.
AMC said the three adjacent four-story buildings on Joy Street were sold for $15 million to a group of local developers and investors. Those partners intend to convert the buildings, which total about 22,000 square feet of floor space, back to their original residential use.
The nonprofit outdoors group is searching for a new headquarters, preferably within Boston, where it was founded. John Judge, AMC’s chief executive since 2012, said the club is looking at sites in Allston, Brighton, and Dorchester, hoping to find an affordable building it can renovate. On his wishlist: more room, more parking, better technology infrastructure, access to public transit, and a more diverse neighborhood.
“We’re growing like crazy, and it makes so much sense to support staff and volunteers better in a 21st century, collaborative space,” Judge said in an interview. “We’re really trying to design something that would be an outdoor hub.”
The group said it started pondering a sale two years ago, when it became apparent that renovating the aging Beacon Hill buildings would cost millions of dollars — and that selling the properties while the real estate market was hot could bring a windfall.
“The buildings have a compartmentalized layout that makes it difficult to scale the space for more people in a collaborative environment and also to make business-critical information technology upgrades,” AMC said. “It is currently an especially opportune time to sell in a strong Boston real estate market.”
The move comes amid a period of reinvention for the storied organization.
Founded in 1876, the group built rustic huts in remote wildernesses in northern New England that draw outdoor buffs from all over, who often travel to their favorite AMC camps year after year, generation after generation. It’s in good financial health, too, with fund-raising hitting record levels last year and paid memberships reaching 92,000, the most in a decade.
But AMC must now work vigorously to remain relevant in an increasingly diverse, digital, urban, and youth-oriented society. That has meant scaling up programs for students in cities, converting publications to digital formats, and investing in trails and facilities closer to population centers, such as AMC’s new Harriman Outdoor Center outside New York City and the Bay Circuit Trail, which partially encircles the Boston area.
The idea is to connect with potential new members, volunteers, and donors earlier in life and closer to home. Once a love of the outdoors has been sparked, Judge reasoned, AMC can draw them to more distant sites and more intensive volunteerism.
“The majority of the world is living in cities now, and if we don’t connect them to the outdoors we’re in trouble,” Judge said. “We’re the country’s oldest conservation organization, but how are we going to engage the next generation with the outdoors and leadership? For us, it’s a pivot point.”
To pull off his “outdoor city” strategy, Judge said, AMC needs to be louder and a more prominent member of Boston’s civic life. It must work more closely with Boston’s universities and corporations. It must recruit more aggressively. And it needs a new headquarters site that makes a statement — that isn’t tucked away, out of sight, on a tony Beacon Hill lane with millionaire neighbors.
“We’re looking at places that would offer more access and make it easier to get more folks involved, especially people from communities of color and underserved communities,” Judge said.
AMC bought its first building on Beacon Hill, 5 Joy St., in 1923 and purchased two neighboring buildings in 1975.
The buyers include Christopher Kelly of Newton-based development firm Insight Partners, former Suffolk Construction executive Rob Gatnik, and Dan Doherty and Brian Kelly of Woburn-based Eastern Real Estate, which is helping to lead the renovation of the Taj hotel and construction of University Station in Westwood.
Funds from the $15 million sale will help finance AMC’s new headquarters. Under the sale agreement, AMC can remain in its current space for a year. Real estate broker McCall & Almy is helping AMC search for its new home, the group said.
AMC is not the first New England institution to leave Beacon Hill behind. In 2014, the Unitarian Universalist Association sold its longtime headquarters at 25 Beacon St. and other properties in the neighborhood to a condo developer. The religious group moved to Farnsworth Street in the Seaport District.