Town Talk: Church strikes deal to move into vacant Masonic Temple building in Downtown Lawrence

News and notes from around town:

• After nearly nine years of sitting vacant, it appears salvation is on the horizon for the former Masonic Temple building in Downtown Lawrence.

That’s right, a church has struck a deal to occupy the iconic building at the southwest corner of 10th and Massachusetts streets.

The Greenhouse Culture, a church that currently meets each Sunday morning in the banquet space of Maceli’s, is moving into the century-old building that is owned by a development group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton.

“We’re already in there knocking the dust out of the place,” said Jared Scholz, the church’s pastor.

Scholz said he hopes to start having church services and other events in the building in September. Scholz said the church won’t be undertaking major renovations to the historic building, but rather will be doing minor interior work such as painting and cleaning.

The space lends itself well to a church setting. It already has an ornate wooden balcony, an old Reuter organ and conversation-starting details like a safe on every floor of the building.

Scholz hopes his new church will provide the opportunity for the public to get inside one of the more mysterious buildings in town, which has long been an oddity with its facade that has Egyptian-style pillars at its entrance. (How did they get Egyptian Revival through the Historic Resources Commission?)

“I would sure like to find some of the best pipe organ players in the world to have a few concerts in that building,” Scholz said. “We feel like the building should be a contributing part of the arts in Lawrence. We hope the doors are hardly ever closed.”

Its main purpose, though, will be to serve as a church. According to its Web site, the Christian-based church is affiliated with the Resurrection Life Church International. Scholz said the new building should allow the church to substantially grow its membership, and also expand upon its mission.

“Right now we just rent a space for four hours on a Sunday, but our plans are much bigger than that,” Scholz said.

The new plans officially bring to a close an effort by Lawrence caterer Steve Maceli to lease the building and create a large banquet and wedding reception venue. Maceli had indicated several months ago that a deal to move into the space was all but dead, and recently he has confirmed to me that he is now focusing on ways to expand at his current location at 1031 N.H. That will be worth keeping an eye on, as the 1000 block of New Hampshire has much underutilized space in the Allen Press property.

The church deal also closes the book on a set of incentives the city had offered to help save the building. The city had approved a package including 10 years of partial property tax rebates, but that project was tied specifically to the Maceli’s property. I know some of you may be wondering if the property even will be on the tax rolls at all since it is rented by a church. And I would tell you that if you I think I’m an accountant, you surely must be wanted by the IRS. (In other words, I don’t know.)

What I do know is that it has been a long and interesting journey with the Masonic Temple building. I once was chatting with Doug Compton several years ago about some of his holdings downtown, and he told me he really bought the Masonic Temple with absolutely no plan for what to do with it.

He told me he was concerned the building back in 2003 was going to be bought and converted into one of the largest nightclubs in all of Kansas. Back in 2003, I think the building still fell under the city provision that gave it a grandfathered exemption to the requirement that any new downtown liquor establishment has to do the majority of its business in food sales. The building has been empty long enough now that the exemption has expired.

So, all you Pharaoh lovers, the idea of Kansas’ only Egyptian Revival style night club (perhaps Cleopatra would have served Jell-O shots) is likely dead and gone.

• We’re going to call it a wrap for Town Talk today because I have pig grooming to oversee. Perhaps some of you remember that this has been The Summer of the Pig at the Lawhorn house. My 9-year old son, for the first time, is showing a 4-H pig at the Douglas County Fair. Weigh in happens this morning. (I’m putting the over-under at 307 pounds.) The show is this evening at 6 p.m., if you are a connoisseur of such things. The Douglas County Fair’s livestock auction is set for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Fairgrounds. It is a great way to support some local youth. We’ll also see if it is a great way for my wife to buy a certain pig that she has become attached to, which would then roam in our backyard. Please, please, come outbid my wife.