A city advisory board is recommending that local governments provide a host of financial incentives to help a local development group remodel the long-vacant Masonic Temple building in downtown Lawrence.
The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee agreed to recommend that a development group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton receives a 10-year property tax rebate and also receives about $48,000 in city assistance with the installation of a fire sprinkler system and a handicapped-accessible ramp.
The development group is proposing to remodel the nearly 17,000-square-foot building, which was built in 1910 and has an Egyptian Revival-style facade, into a banquet venue for Lawrence caterer Steve Maceli.
“I think this project will be a big deal for downtown,” said Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, who also is a member of the incentives review board. “It isn’t creating a lot of jobs, but it is a building a lot of people see. I think this is a signature building for downtown.”
The incentives review committee recommended approval of the tax rebate on a 6-1 vote. City Commissioner Bob Schumm, who also is a member of the committee, voted against the proposal. He said he supported the project but thought a lesser tax rebate should be granted. The board is recommending a 10-year tax rebate that begins with a 95 percent rebate and declines 5 percent per year until it hits 50 percent in year 10. Schumm said he was more comfortable with a 10-year rebate that started at 75 percent and declined over time.
The developers had a sought a 15-year tax abatement, but city staff members recommended against that time frame.
In total, the approved incentives package will be worth about $330,000 to the development over 10 years. The project, though, is expected to produce about $660,000 in new revenue for local governments over the next 15 years. If approved, the tax rebates will come from the city, county and school district. The project would receive the rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. That act requires the developers to pay the full amount of taxes on the current value of the building, which is about $400,000. The development would get a rebate on the taxes paid on the expected $800,000 worth of improvements that will be made to the property.
Compton said that if the various governing bodies approve the request then he would like to have the renovation project completed by the spring.
In other news, the incentives committee also recommended a 65 percent, 10-year tax abatement for a project that would allow Lawrence-based Grandstand Sportswear & Glassware to move into the former Sauer-Danfoss building at the East Hills Business Park. The company, which currently is located in the former Honeywell avionics building near 31st Street and Haskell Avenue, expects to add 83 jobs over the next 10 years as it grows its business of making custom glassware for the microbrewing industry.
City commissioners are expected to consider approving that tax abatement at their Sept. 20 meeting.