COLUMBIA -- Columbia's two oldest private dining clubs, The Summit Club and The Palmetto Club, said they plan to merge in October.
The deal needs approval of both clubs' members, which total about 1,300.
That has not been a given in the past. The Summit Club's proposed merger with the Capital City Club in 2004 was scuttled after Summit members rejected a deal hammered out by board leaders.
As the economy has struggled in recent years, Columbia's dining clubs, used by business leaders for networking and prime meeting locations, have lost members.
The head of The Palmetto Club said the proposed merger is being driven by gains from the clubs working together. That includes combining resources to renovate The Palmetto Club, the future home of the merged clubs.
"We are trying to improve in the way members want us to improve," Palmetto Club chairman Lyles Glenn said. "We're not looking for the status quo."
Under the proposal, the combined clubs at first would operate in their current locations: The Palmetto Club building on Sumter Street, and The Summit Club atop The Tower at 1301 Gervais at Sumter and Gervais streets.
When The Palmetto Club building starts renovations in the spring, the combined club would use the current Summit Club.
After the work is finished, the club would move into The Palmetto Club building.
The club's name will be chosen by December, Glenn said.
The combination follows almost a year of studies, including those by outside consultants, the clubs said.
"It's the best of two worlds," Summit Club president Ann Henry said.
The clubs employ about 60 people, but no decisions have been made about staffing, Glenn said.
The renovated Palmetto Club could have a rooftop terrace, additional meeting rooms, a casual dining room and a wine cellar, the clubs said. The Palmetto Club also could expand into the adjacent Creason building, which is owned by First Citizens Bank.
Any work would need to be approved by the joint membership.
The proposed renovation and expansion would be the first major makeover of the entire club since it was founded in 1959, Glenn said.
The Summit Club was formed in 1972. Pete Wardlaw, one of the three founders still with the club, said Wednesday the merger is a good idea. He recalled a time when The Summit Club had a two-year waiting list soon after it opened.
"Times are kind of tough now," said Wardlaw, who ran a food brokerage business. "With all these clubs, that stretches the availability of the members sort of thin."
The Summit Club has lost 50 members in the past 18 months as the economy has struggled, bringing its membership to about 650, Henry said. Membership has fluctuated between 700 and 800 in her six years as club president, Henry said.
Palmetto Club membership stands between 600 and 700, Glenn said. He would not offer specifics on how membership has changed during the economic downturn.
Columbia's largest dining club, the Capital City Club, has seen its membership shrink by 170, to about 1,200 since 2008.
Capital City was founded in 1988 by business leaders who felt Columbia's other dining clubs had not done enough to invite African-Americans as members.
Members join private dining clubs for initiation fees that range from $500 to $1,000 and monthly dues of about $100.
Capital City general manager Sean McLaughlin said a merger by Columbia's other dining clubs "is prudent from a business standpoint."
The club has no immediate plans for changes now that its two main competitors are merging, McLaughlin said. In recent years, Capital City has renovated its bar and is looking to work on its ballroom.