After months of being sworn to secrecy, the announcement is now official:
February 18, Detroit News: Mike Ilitch-owned Olympia Entertainment is expected to announce today or Tuesday that it has taken over management of the Masonic Temple under a deal aimed at expanding his family's sports and entertainment empire and saving the tax-delinquent landmark, which faces foreclosure March 1.
The deal gives Olympia Entertainment a bigger piece of the local concert and performance industry --and rescues an imperiled architectural gem that owes $123,455 in delinquent property taxes, according to the Wayne County Treasurer's office.
"It's a good deal for the masons, it's a good deal for Ilitch --he's going to make a bunch of money --and it's a good deal for us because we have a home and don't have to worry about taxes," Masonic Temple Association President Bill Betz said.
Ilitch, a pizza baron who along with wife Marian owns Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, has created a sprawling sports and entertainment district along Woodward, south of Interstate 75, that includes Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre, Hockeytown Cafe and the potential site of a new Joe Louis Arena. His wife's separately owned MotorCity Casino is a few blocks west of the Masonic Temple.
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The 14-story Masonic Temple opened in 1926 and was considered by some the region's entertainment epicenter. It has hosted a vast roster of rock stars and Broadway musicals, from the White Stripes to "Wicked" in either its 1,600-seat theater or the 4,400-seat Main Theatre, only slightly smaller than downtown's Fox Theatre, which has some 5,000 seats.
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Under the deal, the Masonic Temple Association will continue to own the landmark while Olympia will manage all of the facility's commercial operations, book shows and concerts.
The deal also is expected to generate enough cash for temple owners to stave off property foreclosure, and pay off unpaid taxes dating to 2005. A $27,326 delinquent water and sewer bill was paid Jan. 28, according to the city.
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Olympia and the Masons have been negotiating for more than one year.
Betz did not disclose the financial details or say when the deal was signed, but said the long-term lease runs for more than five years "and less than 20."
The 14 lodges that meet at the temple will continue to do so and all bills will be paid by Olympia, Betz said.
"As far as the lodges are concerned, nothing changes," Betz said.
The Masonic Temple is the perfect anchor facility if the Ilitches wind up buying the vast un-developed tracts in what is known as the Cass Corridor around the facility to build a new rink for the Red Wings. Moreover, this is fantastic news for the largest Masonic building in the world. As I understand the deal, since the Scottish Rite and the Shrine have moved out of their parts of the building, the blue lodges and the York Rite bodies will retain all of their rooms and facilities intact in the tower, with the codicil that Olympia can rent out those areas when lodges are not using them. Not like there's a shortage of other spaces in the 1,000 or more rooms. There is talk of developing the Shrine wing into apartments, condos or a hotel.
If you've never had the chance to visit the Detroit Masonic Temple, make the effort to go. It is the most amazing Masonic structure you will ever see. And thank the GAOTU for visionary community leaders like Mike Ilitch who saw much more than just a parking lot.
Sitting in Henry Ford's chair, enjoying a cigar, while gazing out of the Temple over Detroit.