The Masonic Temple. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

ITHACA, N.Y. — Jason Fane is hoping a state grant will help him bring life back into the historic Masonic Temple in downtown Ithaca.

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Built in 1926, the former home of the Ithaca Freemasons at 115-117 North Cayuga Street has sat empty and unused for a number of years despite its central location and iconic nature.

That may soon change because of a New York state grant program that encourages revitalization efforts at historic sites in downtown urban centers.

The Masonic Temple on Thursday. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

Fane is seeking the City of Ithaca’s support in his application to use funding from the New York Main Street Grant Program for the Masonic Temple site. The plan already enjoys the support of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance has been well received by city officials.

“I think it would be absolutely wonderful to get the Masonic Temple back to serving a purpose,” says Deb Mohlenhoff, chair of the Ithaca Common Council committee that unanimously endorsed the grant application at City Hall Wednesday night.

“It’s an iconic building for downtown, and it’s a shame for it to be in disrepair. To get a grant to help bring it back would be great.”

Why the Masonic Temple now sits empty

If secured, the grant would allow Fane to convert the Masonic Temple into a site that could be rented and used, according to a letter sent to city officials on Wednesday by Nathan Lyman, of Fane’s Ithaca Renting Company.

Lyman says in his letter that the 20,000 square foot Masonic Temple has sat empty in part because of its designation as a historic site, which makes it difficult to convert into a space desirable to prospective tenants and businesses.

“This designation limits the owner’s ability to re-develop the site, and prevents replacement of the structure,” Lyman says.

Another major obstacle to repurposing the space, he says, is the need to make the building ADA complaint — which in turn requires the installation of a pricey elevator.

“Current building/fire codes and ADA requirements severely limit the pool of prospective tenants,” Lyman says in the letter. “The Owner has searched for a number of years for qualified tenants capable of utilizing the space in its current configuration, without success.”

The grant could change that, Lyman says. (A letter from DIA Executive Director Gary Fergusonsays projects may request between $100,000 and $500,000 from the Main Street grant program and that Ithaca Renting has agreed to provide matching funds for the state grant.)

“Economic realities of construction, (landmark) designation, and governmental requirements limit the opportunities of the owner,” Lyman writes. “The Main Street Program presents a unique opportunity to accomplish the desires of the local government at no expense to local taxpayers.”

The building from the Cayuga Street side.

What could go there?

Lyman’s letter details three possible options for the future of the Masonic Temple:

1) Repurposing it into a “public use building,” which would preserve the second floor grand lodge room and have added expenses related to the restoration of its interior and meeting applicable codes.

“The Owner is in conversations with interested parties, but no commitment has yet been received,” Lyman’s letter states.

2) Splitting the building into 4 rentable spaces. These four rental spaces would include retail space, office space and/or a restaurant space, Lyman says.

3) Converting the entire structure into housing. “The City of Ithaca has recognized an extreme need for additional housing units in the urban core, and this conversion would assist in meeting that need,” Lyman’s letter says.

Doing this would allow more affordable housing in Ithaca’s urban core, the letter says.

All three options would cost at least $1 million, Lyman says.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.