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Sale of Watertown Masonic Temple up in air

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Despite talk earlier in the day that the project to turn Watertown's vacant Masonic Temple into a cultural resource for the community is dead, the executive director of the Adirondack Jewish Center said Thursday night it is still proceeding.


Yaakov M. Getz, the Jewish Center's executive director, said that as far as he knows, his organization still plans to purchase the landmark at 242 Washington St., although a closing date passed a couple of weeks ago. He cited further negotiations with the owners, Masonic Hall Association, but he declined to give the reasons for the sticking points.


His attorney, John H. Parmeter, has been dealing with the Masonic Hall Association's attorney, so he doesn't know exactly why the deal hasn't been finalized.


"I wish I could give you an answer," he said, adding he could not provide the name of the association's attorney.


In October, Dr. Getz said he envisioned turning Watertown's vacant Masonic Temple into a cultural resource for the community after a court approved the sale of the Washington Street building to his organization.


On Thursday morning, the subject of the Masonic Temple deal came up at the Advantage Watertown meeting when a couple of members said the project apparently had fallen through. Donald W. Rutherford, chief executive officer of Watertown Local Development Corp., told members of Advantage Watertown on Thursday morning that he had heard that the project is dead.


"In my opinion, it will eventually come down," Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said after hearing that information at Thursday morning's meeting.


In October, a state Supreme Court judge approved the sale to the Jewish Center for $128,500. The Masonic Hall Association has been trying to sell the neoclassical building since November 2003, with an initial asking price of $499,000. Last May, the Masonic Hall Association dropped the price to $125,000.


The Jewish Center's plans called for housing a community center and a place of worship.


Local Realtor Lori Gervera, who had been handling the potential sale, could not be reached for comment.


At the time of the announcement that the Jewish Center was purchasing it, Mr. Getz said he became interested in the building several years ago. He said then the center was working toward a contract with an engineering firm and the first goal was to stabilize the exterior as quickly as possible. He said he expected building costs to total more than $1 million, with the work supported through fundraising and any grants and economic development agency funding the center could qualify for, he said in October.


In 2003, the Masonic Hall Association decided to sell the building, citing the cost of maintaining the structure — which includes a theater, commercial kitchen and gymnasium — and declining membership for its decision.

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