From a Masonic Temple to a wedding temple — that’s the new plan for a landmark downtown building, if city commissioners are willing to lend a helping hand.
Lawrence caterer Steve Maceli confirmed his business is becoming more serious about putting together a deal to convert the former Masonic Temple building at the southwest corner of 10th and Massachusetts streets into a reception and wedding hall.
But Maceli also said the project likely will need some help from the city in the form of property tax rebates and other assistance.
“If we don’t get some kind of assistance to do the work that needs to be done, I’m afraid it will continue to sit empty,” Maceli said. “The building still is a Lawrence treasure. To bring that treasure back to life, we just need some help.”
The building is owned by a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton. The ownership group has sent a letter to the city manager asking for tax rebates under the Neighborhood Revitalization Act.
The city approved the use of the NRA recently for Treanor Architects to remodel and expand the old Strong’s Office Supply building in the 1000 block of Vermont Street for it new corporate headquarters.
The act only allows a rebate of new property taxes generated by an expansion or an improvement. In other words, whatever the property taxes are for the building today will continue to be paid in the future, but the development group would get a break on the new taxes that would be added to the property as a result of the improvements.
The ownership group is proposing a tax rebate period of 15 years. In year one, the property would have 95 percent of its new taxes rebated. The percentage would decline by 5 percent a year through the 15-year period. After year 15, the property would receive no rebate.
The tax rebate would go to the ownership group, but Maceli said it would help him because it would allow him to pay a lower lease rate for the building, which in turn would allow him to charge more competitive fees for event rentals.
In addition, the ownership group is asking the city to consider ways it could help with installation of a fire sprinkler system in the building.
Maceli said he’s excited about the possibilities. He believes the building could make downtown a major destination for weddings. He envisions the building being a one-stop shop for weddings because the main floor of the building — which has a historic Reuter organ and a balcony — could be used for wedding ceremonies, while the lower level could be used for receptions. Maceli would continue to keep his existing facility at 1031 N.H. for events, and it also would continue to serve as his commercial kitchen.
Representatives of the ownership group have said they’ve struggled to find a tenant for the building. Most potential tenants would have required a complete reconfiguration of the building. Other tenants also likely would need major changes to the Egyptian Revival-style facade of the building, which has become one of downtown’s more recognizable.
Maceli doesn’t want to change the facade and can use the space in its current configuration. But the building needs an elevator and other ADA improvements, plus new wiring, the fire sprinkler system and other similar improvements.
“I think even people who don’t appreciate historic preservation would not want this building to be gutted,” Maceli said.
The building has been vacant since about 2003, when the Lawrence Scottish Rite sold it to move to a new location in eastern Lawrence.