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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Masons' need for smaller sites impacts Toledo

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Declining memberships of Toledo's Masonic organizations has them looking for smaller, more cost-efficient facilities, which has led at least one group to leave the city and has upset Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

The Zenobia Shrine already has announced it is moving from its home at 1517 Madison Ave. in Toledo's Uptown district.

Shriners will temporarily operate from commercial space at Glendale Avenue and Reynolds Road as they work out the particulars of moving to an undisclosed location in Perrysburg Township.

The purchase of the land in Wood County is pending and nothing has been signed, Potentate Mike Schnapp said.

Another Masonic group is said to be leaving the city is the Scottish Rite, which operates out of the Masonic Complex on Heatherdowns Boulevard.

At a news conference yesterday regarding a charter school moving into the Shrine building, Mr. Finkbeiner said the Masons are moving to Sylvania Township and their Masonic Center at 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. will be torn down.

Gary McElfresh, secretary of the Scottish Rite, Toledo, said that is not true.

"This property is not now nor has it been up for sale," he said. "We do not have another facility to relocate to."

But the group is considering a move to a smaller facility because there is not the same need.

In the past, 10 Masonic lodges held their meetings in the Heatherdowns building, but that number in recent years has dwindled to three.

As a result, the center will be closed to meetings of the lodges and other organizations starting in September. The group's offices and learning center will remain in operation there, Mr. McElfresh said.

He said most of the lodge groups have combined with others over time and already found other meeting locations.

If the Scottish Rite Masonic group decides to leave the complex in South Toledo, it will not affect the Stranahan Theater and Great Hall, which also are located on the property, said Mr. McElfresh and Ward Whiting, executive director of the Stranahan.

"Nothing is going to happen to the Stranahan," Mr. Whiting said.

"It will not affect us. We are separate from them even though they are our landlord. They own the property upon which we sit, but they do not own the buildings."

The Stranahan Theater and Great Hall are operated by a nonprofit trust with a board, budgets, and management team separate from the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, which owns the land, Mr. Whiting said.

The Shriners and Scottish Rite are both Masonic organizations, but they are separate from one another and the actions of one don't necessarily affect the other, Mr. Schnapp and Mr. McElfresh said.

A person has to be a Mason to be a member of either group, and previously a person had to be a member of the Scottish Rite or York Rite in order to be a Shriner.

That rule was changed some years ago, but many people are members of both groups.

The various groups of Masons have different philanthropic interests. The Shriners support pediatric hospitals and the Scottish Rite supports learning centers for children with dyslexia.

The Zenobia Shrine has been in the Uptown district since 1949.

The Masonic Complex on Heatherdowns opened in 1969. The Masons previously used a temple facility built in 1904 at Michigan and Adams streets in downtown Toledo.

The Masons' decision at that time to build the cultural arts center away from the city's core has been credited by some as the beginning of the decline of downtown Toledo.

Now, the city's current mayor fears the effects of the Zenobia Shrine leaving Uptown Toledo for the suburbs.

A day after the Toledo City Council voted to override Mr. Finkbeiner's vetoes of two charter school permits, one at the Shrine building, he renewed his criticism of the council helping them leave the city.

The council's vote allows the Zenobia Shrine to sell their building to Imagine School, a charter school corporation based in Arlington, Va.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that he went to bat for the Zenobia Shrine in his previous administration when they wanted the old Hillcrest Hotel at 241 16th St. torn down because they needed additional parking and thought the building was an eyesore.

His move to demolish the building met resistance from preservationists, and ultimately the mayor pushed an agreement through City Council to have the building renovated into apartments.

"It's a bad decision, no question about it," the mayor said of the council's 9-2 override vote.

He said schools do not belong in the neighborhood and the community will lose property taxes on both buildings.

Mr. Finkbeiner also rejected arguments that the schools will bring new jobs into downtown, saying each new charter school job is a job lost from Toledo Public Schools.

"No one [from the Shrine] contacted me and asked me if I could be of assistance in any way," he said. "They're bailing on Toledo and [Tuesday] my councilman helped them bail."

Council President Rob Ludeman, who represents District 2 in which the mayor lives and who supported the permits, said council is required to base its zoning decisions on land-use issues, such as the impact on parking, noise, traffic, and building function.

The permits were recommended by the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commission as appropriate for the Uptown neighborhood, and also were endorsed by the Uptown Association.

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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