Archive for Thursday, September 15, 2011

Historic hall

City commissioners should approve plans to remodel the former Masonic Temple in downtown Lawrence.

September 15, 2011


A proposal to use rebated property taxes to help put the former Masonic Temple at 10th and Massachusetts streets back into service is a good deal for the city.

The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee decided on Tuesday to recommend that the Lawrence City Commission approve a plan that would rebate a portion of the property taxes on the expected increased value of the building to the property’s owners. That money would be used to remodel the building for use as a banquet venue. Under the provisions of the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, the developers would continue to pay their full property tax bill on the current value of the building, about $400,000. As the project proceeds and the value of the property increases, a portion of the property taxes paid on the increased value would be returned to the building’s owners on a decreasing scale for 10 years. The proposed rebate would start at 95 percent and decline by 5 percent per year until it reaches 50 percent in the 10th and final year.

The PIRC also is recommending that the city commit about $48,000 to help install a ramp to meet handicapped accessibility requirements and a fire sprinkler system.

The recommendation is a little less than developers were seeking and it pencils out well on paper for the city. Every dollar the city invests or rebates in the project is calculated to produce a return of $2.69 in revenue for the city. The long-term increase in property taxes also would benefit county government and the Lawrence school district.

Beyond pure dollars and cents, this project has an intangible value to Lawrence. The former Masonic Hall was built in 1910 and its Egyptian Revival facade is a distinctive feature of the downtown landscape. It’s highly unlikely the building could be converted to office space or other more traditional uses without spoiling its historic character. The building already has stood empty for almost a decade, awaiting a creative proposal that would put it back into use. The property owners and Lawrence caterer Steve Maceli are willing to make a significant investment in this project, but it probably won’t be possible without some kind of public support.

The fact that the property taxes will be paid and then rebated could give the city a little more leverage in the project. The city’s recommendation includes a provision that the annual tax rebate and payments will be conditioned on the continued use of the building as a caterer/dining facility. The owners are required to notify the city and get approval for any change in the building’s use.

City commissioners should never take tax rebates or abatements lightly, but sometimes it’s appropriate to provide public support for a project that has a clear public benefit. Putting a local landmark like the former Masonic Temple back into use is such a project and deserves the city’s support.


Evan Ridenour 6 years, 8 months ago

As an alternative. The building could be remodeled for the purposes of a business that could actually afford to rent it at market rates without hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax payer subsidies. Or as another option, Compton could rent it for less of a profit margin. Or, how about the city go after Compton for buying the building and then allowing it to sit there and fall apart to the point that he could blackmail the city into giving him a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars? A large portion of our handout will be used to repair damage that only occurred because he let the building sit there for years and fall into disrepair. How is that right? Why should Compton be rewarded for spending too much money on it? Shouldn't there be some form of risk to buying real estate? Isn't that one of the core financial theories of our capitalist system? The cities job isn't to give hand outs to private companies because they make a bad decision. The cities job isn't to give hand outs to private companies because what they want to do won't give them a big enough profit margin.

Just because the taxes on the building will "go up eventually" doesn't mean this doesn't cost the taxpayers anything. We are allowing a private business (First Management) to make a huge profit and a large percentage of that profit is from the taxes we are not making them pay. Here is an example of how stupid this whole idea is. I want to remodel my home. After I do so I am sure the hacks at the appraisal office will decide to drastically increase the appraisal value of my home and thereby my property taxes will increase. If I ask the city to rebate the majority of the increase in those property taxes for the next 10-15 years, do you think that would happen? Of course not. Would the city do that for any of you? Of course not. There isn't even any data showing an increase in jobs would occur! And I am highly skeptical with as much space as there already is in this city for events that it will somehow magically add more revenue from said events. More likely it will only shift it from other locations. By Compton's own admission there have been other businesses who have been interested in that space, businesses that wouldn't have needed hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax payer hand outs to pay "market rates". In a time of economic hardship where our city can't repair its infrastructure, it can't buy fire equipment, etc, to give away so much money for no other reason then to provide some extra profit to a local developer is asinine.

Kookamooka 6 years, 8 months ago

"Or, how about the city go after Compton for buying the building and then allowing it to sit there and fall apart to the point that he could blackmail the city into giving him a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars?"

Here, here! This is exactly what happened. Compton is infamous for strategic blight and because he's wealthy and gave the city a fire station, the commissioners roll over. I'm surprised he doesn't have a better public relations machine working to improve his image among the common citizens. Oh yeah. He doesn't give a bleep about the average Lawrencian-just his wallet.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 8 months ago

You forgot to mention that your boss, Dolph, and Compton are good buddies and business partners.

Gareth Skarka 6 years, 8 months ago

Most of these pieces credited to "J-W Editorial" are written BY Dolph.

So yeah -- typical Oligarch BS: Helping your rich buddies get rich at everybody else's expense.

FlintlockRifle 6 years, 8 months ago

Doug, is not the """$$$$$$$$$$$$$""" person in there family

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

My opinion is that the city allowing a rebate on a portion of the increase in the property taxes is a good long term decision.

Anyone that read the article closely should notice that the owners are going to have to pay an increasingly higher tax every year, instead of paying only the tax on the present value of the building.

There should be a 'long-term increase in property taxes", so a partial reduction for the next ten years is not going to cost the city any more money, if you look at the long term picture.

The former Masonic Temple has been a local landmark for over 100 years, it has a very distinctive architecture, and therefore it should be preserved for future generations instead of only thinking of the expediency of the moment.

Lawrence has a distinctive character with a history of historic preservation, this is only one more instance of it.

It is true that maintaining the historic character of the city has a cost, and that is part of the reason why it costs more to live in Lawrence due the higher property and sales taxes here compared with other cities in Kansas. If you do not want to pay that increased cost, you have the option to move to another city.

Joe Hyde 6 years, 8 months ago

Where is the "clear public benefit" in awarding 10-year tax rebates to a group of local developers for starting up a catering/dining business? No offense to the many good people engaged in that honest line of work, but isn't downtown Lawrence already knee-deep in dining establishments? And with few exceptions those dining establishments moved at their own expense into vacant space inside buildings that are as old, or older, than the Masonic Temple. Are they receiving tax rebates from the city?

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

If things work out anything like they look like they will, the "clear public benefit" is that the city of Lawrence will end up receiving more money in the long run.

"as old, or older, than the Masonic Temple"

Age is not the important factor at all. There are two major factors, and they are architectural style, which is totally lacking in just all of the properties that you are describing, and historic significance, which is also totally lacking in just about all of the properties that you are describing.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

"If things work out,..." is the problem.

Projections of future business success and income are completely unreliable.

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