nix home for HIV+ homeless, save downtown, Detroit columnist

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 15 Feb 1998 14:32:06 -0800 (PST)


FWD   Feb 15, 1998   By Detroit News columnist Pete Waldmeir

ARCHER NEEDS TO MAKE RIGHT DECISION TO SAVE MASONIC TEMPLE


Mayor Dennis Archer would do well to take serious the Masonic Order' threat
to shutter their majestic, 70-year-old Cass corridor temple and move out of
Detroit if the city approves turning a derelict, abandoned apartment
building across the street into a shelter for homeless people with HIV and
AIDS.

I know, I know; homeless people have to live someplace, right? And don't
ever dare mess with folks with HIV and AIDS. That'll get you branded as an
intolerant racist homophobe. But this project, friends, just plain doesn't
make any sense.

The six-story windowless hulk called Temple Towers is at 437 Temple,
directly across from the main entrance to the Masonic Theater, a Detroit
jewel that annually attracts hundreds of thousands of patrons to some of
Broadway's most lavish musical and dramatic productions. Vacant for 10
years, Temple Towers is more than an eyesore.

Police say it is a haven for drug addicts and prostitutes. As the Masonic
Temple's general manager, Gil Rice, puts it with inarguable veracity: "If
that dump was across Woodward avenue from the Fox Theatre, it would have
been bulldozed five years ago."

Architects and inspectors for the city of Detroit and the Masons have
pronounced it unsalvageable. It falls far short of zoning requirements,
even by liberal Cass corridor standards.

Still, late last month the Detroit City Council sold it for $1 to a Cass
corridor activist group whose leader admits there is no financing in place
to renovate it. In the deal, the council incredibly gave the group three
years to come up with $3.5 million.

"We goofed," admitted Council President Gil Hill. "We were asleep at th
switch. All we were voting on was an address. If I'd known ... I'd have
objected immediately and held it up."

The problem, Hill says, is that the damage is done and the council cannot
reverse it. But a mayoral veto can.

The Masons have filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court seeking an
injunction to halt the title turnover. The case has been assigned to Judge
Robert Colombo Jr., who will hear arguments Feb. 20.

This is where we get to the touchy stuff.

The Masonic Order is composed of mostly upscale, white suburbanites and the
Cass corridor is heavily populated with poor whites, blacks and other
minorities. The ornate, 1,034-room temple contains hundreds of meeting
rooms, two theaters, several ballrooms, a huge drill hall and a
competition-size swimming pool that never has had water in it.

In recent years, the temple's income from weddings, proms, parties and
other ceremonies has dwindled, however, mostly because of the rundown
neighborhood. The Masons have threatened to cut their losses and move out
and even have purchased some suburban property.

The main thing that's kept them going downtown is the lease of their
massive 2,000-seat theater to Fisher Theatre impresario Joey Nederlander,
who has brought in high-revenue productions like The Phantom of the Opera,
Miss Saigon, Evita and Beauty and the Beast.

The Masonic Temple's problems may not be a high priority item for Archer,
who's been accused of catering more to affluent white folks than to city
dwellers. But this is a deal that will hurt everybody and he ought to
correct it.

END FORWARD

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