Masonic Lodge could help revive Leechburg

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by Blake Bowden, Feb 11, 2010.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    The Masonic Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in the borough, is being touted as becoming an active part of the town's future.

    But a hefty bill for unpaid taxes — and an even more staggering one for repairs and restoration — stand in the way.

    "I don't want to see it torn down or turned into a parking lot," said Vicki Beuth, a member of the Leechburg Area Community Association, which is working to save the building at 248 Market St. "We want to protect it because it's part of our history."

    Dating to 1830, the building has been declared an historic landmark by the Leechburg Area Historical Society. The Masons have owned it since 1925, Beuth said.

    The building sits back off the street, white paint peeling off its majestic columns. The Masons' sign in front is empty, with only the ghost of letters remaining.

    According to Beuth, the Masons have moved out. A representative of the masons could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

    Inside, Beuth said the building hasn't been touched, and retains its original woodwork, fireplaces, staircases and windows.

    Beyond preserving the building, Beuth said the association's goal is to turn the building into a business incubator. The association would help businesses that locate there be successful, and they could benefit from the building's draw. An antique dealer has expressed interest, she said.

    "It only helps the rest of us in town. The more foot traffic we have in town, it increases the foot traffic to every other business in town," said Beuth, owner of Leechburg Floral.

    Of immediate concern are the back taxes. According to Armstrong County, a total of about $16,194 is owed to the county, borough and the Leechburg Area School District for 2007, 2008 and 2009. The total includes interest and costs. The 2007 taxes must be paid and a new agreement started for the 2008 taxes by the end of June or the property could go up for tax sale in September, according to the county.

    After a discussion with borough council this week, Beuth said the association will seek an agreement with the Masons to transfer the building to the nonprofit group, which could then ask the taxing bodies to forgive the taxes owed.

    Although facing a budget crisis and having to increase property taxes sharply, borough council would listen to such a request, council President Tony Defilippi said. The borough is owed $1,929.

    "There's a lot of possibility for it," he said. "I would not want to see that torn down."

    Most of the money — almost $11,200 — is owed to the school district. Superintendent James Budzilek said forgiving such a substantial amount would be difficult.

    "It's a nice chunk of change for us. You have to counter that with are there going to be economic benefits for the district down the road?" he said. "The board will be receptive to listening. We'll have to take a hard look at it."

    The cost to repair and restore the building has been estimated at $178,000. Beuth said that includes repairing termite-damaged beams and installing new windows, a heating system and a handicapped-accessible bathroom.

    Beuth said the association would seek grants and donations to cover the work. She said she'd like to get 1,000 people to give $100 each.

    "I know it needs a lot of renovations," said Betty Smail of Gilpin, a member of the Leechburg Area Museum and Historical Society. "We're going to need a lot of help to fulfill the dream of getting it back to what it once was."

    The Freeport Leechburg Apollo Group would help with finding grants and technical assistance for the building's renovation, said Dave Farkas, director of Main Street programs with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

    "That building is one of the most significant in downtown Leechburg. We're very interested in seeing the building utilized," Farkas said.

    Beuth said the work could be done in stages. The damaged beams would need to be taken care of first.

    A smaller building on the property could be ready for rental to a business first, revenue from which could be used to fund repairs to the main building, Beuth said.

    "I see it as a 10-year project. It's not going to happen overnight," Beuth said. "I do think we can raise the money. I think enough people care about the history of the town and the history of that building in particular. It's doable."


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