Tour emphasizes Masonic Temple’s uniqueness; caterer urges city to provide incentives for development

Lawrence caterer and downtown business owner Steve Maceli is convinced that the former Masonic Temple at 10th and Massachusetts streets is worth preserving with its distinctive stone columns and unique Egyptian overtones.

“This is one of the anchors to downtown,” said Maceli, who owns Maceli’s, a catering and banquet hall at 1031 N.H.. “This is as important to downtown as the Eldridge, Liberty Hall, as important as Weaver’s. This is one of the cornerstones of downtown.”

Now, he has to convince city leaders that they ought to help in the effort. Maceli and the building’s owners — a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton — have filed paperwork with the city requesting a 15-year property tax break for the building, plus cash assistance to install a fire sprinkler in the 1910 structure. Maceli wants to use the building as a second location for his catering and event business.

“I don’t think we want a national chain coming in here and gutting the place,” Maceli said. “You have to think of how many potential tenants are out there that could truly preserve the building. We feel like we can.”

Wednesday morning, Maceli provided a tour of the building to bankers, business advisers and event planners. The group of about 20 saw pressed copper ceilings that Maceli plans to bring back to life, the grand hall of the temple that comes with an ornate wood balcony and an old Reuter organ, and odd details like large safes that were placed on every floor of the building when it was used by the Masons.

“If these walls could talk, you would really have to wonder what they would say,” said Allison Vance Moore, a Lawrence commercial real estate broker who is working on the project.

Group members were told Wednesday that city incentives will be an important factor in determining whether the deal will move forward. As previously reported, the building’s owners are asking for:

• Property tax rebates through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. Under the proposal, 95 percent of the property taxes would be rebated in the first year, and the percentage would drop 5 percent per year until year 16, when there would be no rebate.

• Cash assistance to install a $70,000 fire sprinkler system in the building.

• A commitment from the city to rebuild the sidewalk along the building to help make the site ADA compliant.

Any city incentives would go to the building’s ownership group, but Maceli said they ultimately will help his business. He plans to lease the building from Compton’s group, and he said without the incentives the lease rate would be too high to feasibly operate an event and banquet business at the location.

City commissioners haven’t yet debated the incentive request. Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to send the request to the Public Incentives Review Committee, which will make a recommendation to the commission. PIRC may briefly talk about the project at its meeting on Thursday, but it is not scheduled to make a recommendation until a later date.