Archive for Wednesday, September 21, 2011

City Commission agrees to give Masonic Temple tax rebate

September 21, 2011


Deb Drummet, of Capital City Bank, uses her cell phone to capture a picture from the balcony of the Masonic Temple building during a tour Wednesday, June 29, 2011. Stephen Maceli, owner of Maceli's, is considering converting the historic building to host weddings and catered events.

Deb Drummet, of Capital City Bank, uses her cell phone to capture a picture from the balcony of the Masonic Temple building during a tour Wednesday, June 29, 2011. Stephen Maceli, owner of Maceli's, is considering converting the historic building to host weddings and catered events.

City commissioners think the Masonic Temple building in downtown Lawrence has been empty long enough.

Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting agreed to provide 10 years worth of property tax rebates to a local development group that hopes to convert the 100-year-old building into a banquet hall for Lawrence caterer Steve Maceli.

“This is a generous tax incentive, but it is warranted by the fact that this is a particularly historic building in a district of historic buildings,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell. “It has been sitting there boarded up not adding to our downtown, and it should be.”

A development group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton bought the building eight years ago, after Lawrence’s Masonic lodge moved to a new south Lawrence location. The building has been vacant ever since. Paul Werner, a local architect who is leading the renovation efforts, said that the building’s layout makes it difficult to use as an office or retail location and that making any major changes to the building likely would not pass historical preservation standards.

But Lawrence caterer Steve Maceli said he wants to use the building as a second location for his catering and banquet business. He said he envisions restoring the original Reuter organ, the old wood floors and other historic features in the building to make it a prime location for downtown weddings and other events.

“I like taking old things and giving them new life,” Maceli said.

Commissioners agreed to grant the project a special type of tax rebate. Using the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, the city will grant the property a partial tax rebate. The project will continue to pay the approximately $12,000 in taxes it currently pays, but it will receive a rebate on the new taxes created by the estimated $800,000 in renovations. The property tax rebate will range from 95 percent in year one to 50 percent in year 10. Thereafter, the project will not receive a rebate.

The project also will receive $12,000 in city funding to build a new ADA-accessible entrance to the building and $36,000 over 10 years to help offset the cost of installing a fire sprinkler system in the three-story structure.

City commissioners were told the financial incentives will be used to lower the rent charged to Maceli’s venture.

“This is our best chance to make something work at this location,” Werner said.

Commissioners approved the incentives on a 4-1 vote. City Commissioner Bob Schumm opposed the deal. He said he was willing to provide the project a tax rebate but argued for a lesser amount.

“I still feel like this is kind of a rich gesture on our part,” Schumm said. “I think we would see the project get done with a lesser amount of money.”

City Commissioner Mike Amyx, though, said he wasn’t sure about that, given that the building has already been vacant for eight years.

“It may or may not get done for less money,” Amyx said. “I think the building could sit there empty for another 10 or 12 years.”

Additionally, commissioners approved a property tax abatement for Lawrence-based Grandstand Sportswear & Glassware to move into the vacant Sauer-Danfoss building in the East Hills Business Park.

Commissioners unanimously approved a 10-year, 65 percent property tax abatement for the project. The business, owned by former Kansas University basketball player Chris Piper, is seeing a growth surge as it designs specialty glasses for craft brewers around the world. Piper is estimating the company will add 84 employees over the next 10 years. The business currently has about 50 employees. The business is expected to start new employees at a wage of $12 an hour, with average wages growing to about $18.50 an hour.


Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago

When is the city going to rebate the taxes for the taxpayers who bear the brunt of these tax dollar subsidies?

If the property owners had no plan why did they buy the building in the first place?

gr 6 years, 7 months ago

Merrill, could you explain how someone paying the same amount of taxes they are currently paying, will cause others to "bear the brunt of these tax dollar subsidies"?

In other words, if nothing is changed, if this wasn't approved, who is going to "bear the brunt" of the lack of increased taxes?

Kookamooka 6 years, 7 months ago

Quick! Somebody tax the rich at the same level as the poor so we can see some of the tax abatement money come back to the people!

boxers_or_briefs 6 years, 7 months ago

So if I buy a historic house, let it sit and deteriorate for 10 years even though I have more than enough money of my own to fix it, can I get a tax rebate from the city too?

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

I am not a Compton fan. Nor do I especially like that little hypocritical worm, Steve Maceli. Nonetheless, your tired theory of "demolition by neglect" is a wee bit thread bare. Do you really think Compton consciously and deliberately purchased the property planning for it to sit for years and deteriorate so he could cash in on some future and uncertain tax incentives?

Dougie is too smart for that. The money he cumulatively shelled out over the years for insurance, interest and maintenance (not a whole lot on the maintenance) was probably quite a bit of money. I doubt he would bet that sum of money against future and uncertain tax incentives.

Instead, I think his greed got the best of him. I surmise he simply saw another downtown property to add to his empire, and drunk on his own kool-aid, figured he could turn into into a profitable venture in a reasonable amount of time.

I am not suggesting he is deserving of the incentives. Just saying that you are off-base in attributing his m.o.

jafs 6 years, 7 months ago

Regardless of his motives, this sort of policy in fact rewards this behavior, which isn't what we want to do, in my view.

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

Disincentives for bad behavior are designed to deter purposeful and deliberate behavior. They have little effect on consequential behavior.

While Lowes and Olive Garden will probably build even without incentives, whether this project would have continued without incentives is hard to answer. Nonetheless, Compton's argument that absent incentives, the property would continue to sit, does have some merit.

Its a no-win situation for the taxpayers and citizens of Lawrence. Either the place sits vacant and continues to deteriorate and remain an eyesore, or it becomes productive and adds to downtown's vibrancy while at the same time bailing Compton out of a poor business decision.

jafs 6 years, 7 months ago

I agree that it's now a no-win situation.

But, if we had incentives that discouraged buying buildings and letting them sit vacant for many years, instead of policies that encouraged it by rewarding it with tax breaks, the behavior would decrease.

Or, if the incentives were tax based, the city would have gotten a lot more tax revenue from the building over the last 8 years or so.

Either way, it would be better than the way we do it now.

Bob Forer 6 years, 7 months ago

The problem is more than simply passing effective laws. Its electing effective politicians who represent the best interests of its citizenry as opposed to representing wealthy special interests.

Its all about democracy. Nothing more, nothing less. Right now, this country is democratic in name only. The wealthy rule.

But they always have.

jafs 6 years, 7 months ago

No argument from me on all of that.

vuduchyld 6 years, 7 months ago

Great job, Grandstand! Keep up the good work!

irvan moore 6 years, 7 months ago

it seems like cromyism is alive and well in lawrence kansas

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

So according to Republican's creed, businesses should be banging down our door to get these tax breaks. Yet, they aren't. Of course if they did, all our local business people would fight it. I mean, they would have to compete for workers, and they might even have to pay a living wage, god forbid.

homechanger 6 years, 7 months ago

I would like the paper to list total amounts of tax help doug Compton has gotten from the city in the last 10 years.

ljwhirled 6 years, 7 months ago

Well, there is the zebra wrangler.......

LivedinLawrence4Life 6 years, 7 months ago

I hope this tax break will help Doug Compton and Larry Brown to get back in their feet financially during this difficult time. The Fritzells have Boardwalk and Park Place and were taking a commanding lead in the Lawrence monopoly game. This should help Doug "Woody from toy story" Compton to catch back up in the game.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 7 months ago

What is the difference whether they give the money to Compton or to the Library or to the Community Theatre -- the bus? Each are an example of a terrible waste of tax dollars. When is it going to stop?

People complain on here about taxes, political parties, but choose to squander money when it is in their interest and whine when it is not.

In the near future, there will be no money for anything and the freeloaders will succeed in pulling the working people down to their level of poverty.

Joe Hyde 6 years, 7 months ago

The difference, CHIBW, is that tax dollars spent on a city library, a community theatre and a city bus line are helping the general public. All of the public.

What I don't understand about this tax rebate for the old Masonic Lodge is why the development group even approached the city for money at all. And I'm not singling out Mr. Compton here, but the fact remains that he is the person who has most often been recently named as "developer in charge" for various high-dollar projects. Two come to mind: the rural corporate retreat that he and his group just received permission to build south of Wells Overlook; and the new apartment/office building on the southwest corner of 9th and New Hampshire.

If Mr. Compton and his associates had sufficient money to build a new multi-million dollar high-rise in downtown Lawrence, then why didn't they spend some of their own money fixing up the old Masonic Temple first? Mr. Compton buys the Masonic Temple ten years or so ago then lets it sit abandoned while spending his money on other, flashier projects. And then he and his associates come hat in hand to the City Commission pleading poverty, asking for tax rebates that will help them fix up the Masonic Temple.

This sequence of events has a really rotten smell about it. Nothing about rehabbing the Masonic Temple has anything to do with providing for the public good; this is a private enterprise undertaking. But now everyone living in Lawrence will see a certain amount of their tax dollars diverted by the City Commission into venture capital to assist a group of wealthy developers who could easily have paid for the Temple's repairs using their own money if they'd only looked after their affairs in the correct orderly fashion.

gr 6 years, 7 months ago

"But now everyone living in Lawrence will see a certain amount of their tax dollars diverted by the City Commission"

"diverted" is an action word. Please explain how any tax dollars from the people are going to be "diverted".

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 7 months ago

The difference, CHIBW, is that tax dollars spent on a city library, a community theatre and a city bus line are helping the general public. All of the public +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Yea, in theory, but in practice they are money pits that support the desires of a very few "Visionaries" and those they hoodwinked into thinking like them. There is nothing wrong with providing your own transportation, housing, medical and subsistance, unless you were born without the ability to provide for yourself. This entitlement for the good of the community is bankrupting the working class. I am not against these things, but we more than need some time to recover.

Compton should pay his own way just as the transportation and theatre people. Maybe the city should fund a whore house as it too, would be there for the general public. All the public.

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

"What is the difference whether they give the money to Compton or to the Library or to the Community Theatre -- the bus? Each are an example of a terrible waste of tax dollars. When is it going to stop?"

The Library, the Community Theatre and the bus are for everyone in the community. Money towards the Masonic Temple will allow Compton to make even more money. Now, I would hope that means he hires more people or gives the people he works for a raise or better benefits, but that will still only benefit a few people. And I really doubt if that will happen anyway. Quit being gutless wonders and take your own risks.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not totally against this rebate, because I don't want to see such a great building fall apart, but I am sick of developers buying buildings they say they can't afford to renovate. If you can't afford to develop it, don't buy it. Quit trying to make us help you get rich.

somedude20 6 years, 7 months ago

I think this is BS!!! Lets get Rage Against The Machine to come do a "taking back the city from greedy shysters" concert (we can get the Jonas Bros for the city council!)

MarcoPogo 6 years, 7 months ago

"Lets get Rage Against The Machine"


ljwhirled 6 years, 7 months ago

Well, if more than 12% of the voters turned out for city commission elections.....

footnote2 6 years, 7 months ago

We who object to this chronic donation of tax money to well-heeled local businesses -- this by officials who claim support for a free market -- can also protest by buying our needs in other cities. We can't avoid the local property and real estate taxes, but the tax on a car, refrigerator, television set etc. can be paid in Johnson Co., Topeka or even KCMO. Buy hamburger in Lawrence but check out the durable goods elsewhere!

1southernjayhawk 6 years, 7 months ago

Yes, this sure makes a lot of sense. Dumb.

Fatty_McButterpants 6 years, 7 months ago

If you do not like all of the tax rebates being granted by the city commission, then here is a thought for you: DO NOT RE-ELECT THESE CITY COMMISSIONERS.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

a tax break for a mausoleum....who wants to eat dinner in an ugly mausoleum? the commissioners should have done lawrence a favor and let compton tear that ugly thing down and build something he would be paying property taxes on it.

irvan moore 6 years, 7 months ago

i love it when my tax dollars go to support business i can't afford to patronize

Pastor_Bedtime 6 years, 7 months ago

Favoritism and picking winners. Who needs competition anyways? About time this town grew a backbone... or something.

somedude20 6 years, 7 months ago

“I like taking old things and giving them new life,” Maceli said What, like White Owl?

Townie007 6 years, 7 months ago

I think Compton is doing well enough too but...I think many people are missing an important point. The taxes break will be on the added value of the building after it is renovated, not a complete tax break. The taxes will continue to be collected on the current valuation as a result I am more OK with this one.

But I am not OK with Grandstand getting a subsidy so they can stop renting and buy a building. This is an existing business that "promises" to hire more people based on "projected growth". If growth projections are so good then why do they need a hand out???

I think our paper did a poor job of informing us about the details of this deal. Smells really bad. I mean it is odoriferous.

pizzapete 6 years, 7 months ago

This is a win win for the people of Lawrence. Compton is going to save tons of money and pass the saving on to the Marcelli and the rest of us. So when your wanting to rent a property from Doug or use Marcelli for your next event be sure to ask for the special tax break discount. And remember to say Willie the Zebra sent ya.

true_patriot 6 years, 7 months ago

What makes this more capitulation to economic blackmail than a run of the mill incentive (should there even be overly generous run of the mill incentives to rich investors in a Great Recession?) is the history of it.

The reason "It has been sitting there boarded up not adding to our downtown" is because it has been held hostage. Compton's group used their deep pockets when the Masons moved out to match and then outbid other local interests who wanted to buy the building and put it to immediate use back then.

Instead of being the one crappy corner of the intersection with unsightly plywood and tacky conservative political signs plastered on it for years, it would have been a developed and operational venue, undoubtedly paying taxes after improvements since Lawrence doesn't seem interested in this kind of welfare for local owners making local products (Hillary Brown's new line of nationally distributed frozen burgers from Local Burger for example, or perhaps all the green renovations The Mercantile Coop did a few years back).

How pathetic. Just say YES to economic strong-arming by wealthy investor groups and fork over Lawrence taxpayers' dollars to line their pockets even in the worst economic times since the Great Depression in the 1930's.

true_patriot 6 years, 7 months ago

I saw a piece on the local news tonight about record numbers of Lawrence and Eudora families signing up for an Ekan free food program, including some families that have never had to go wait in line for a handout to be able to eat before.

I wonder why we are giving out investor and developer welfare for projects like this one and potentially the new Compton investment vehicle being constructed at 9th and New Hampshire as well as the newly proposed corporate welfare venture by the Lawrence Art Center at a dire time like this?

If families in our town are unable to put food on the table and the number of such families is increasing as hard times continue, how do we possibly justify giving taxpayer dollars to the wealthy instead of helping those Lawrencians who truly need the help?

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