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Masonic Temple to change hands in February; first tenants move in

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Jefferson County Democratic Committee Chairman Ronald H. Cole had doubts about moving the committee into the long-vacant Masonic Temple on Washington Street.

When he went through it six weeks ago, the downtown landmark was in rough shape, with holes in walls, old pinkish-colored carpeting and the smell of cats inside, he said.

With some coaxing, the Democratic Committee became the first tenant of the Masonic Temple, still very much a work in progress as new developers continue to prepare for its acquisition. On Monday, Mr. Cole went back to see what the committee’s offices and building looked like, somewhat surprised at the amount of work that transpired over the past several weeks.

A construction crew of about a dozen workers repaired walls and repainted them, installed new beige carpets and refinished hardwood floors and woodwork to get ready for the committee’s move.

“I think they did a fantastic job.” Mr. Cole said.

On Thursday, Augusta Withington, who co-owns Fourth Coast Inc., a renewable energy company in Clayton, said she expects to close the deal to purchase the building in February. She’s working with her business partner, Robert J. Campany, on the project.

At this point, they don’t have any definitive plans for the building, except to find additional tenants for the other first-floor offices. They plan to seek input from business and community leaders about the second-floor grand meeting room, a third-floor gym and the kitchen and other space in the basement.

They intend to make the rounds of the Watertown Local Development Corp., Watertown city officials, Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, Development Authority of the North Country and others to get suggestions, Ms. Withington said.

Making major repairs to the roof this spring and stabilizing the building are the most pressing concerns, Mr. Campany said. The building’s crumbling exterior must be addressed. The building also will get Internet and fiber-optic access. Work will continue on the other floors as ideas come forward.

“It’s a multi-year project,” Mr. Campany said, adding “the variety of space is really unique.”

The first floor still features floor-to-ceiling sliding wood doors to offices, a series of decorative globe lights in the hallway and ornate archways. The developers plan to use as much of the building’s historic characteristics as they can, Ms. Withington said.

In June, she came forward in the 11th hour to put a purchase offer on the vacant structure just as the property was going through the back taxes process and faced city takeover.

She is buying it from Henderson artist Garrett L. McCarthy, who purchased it last year through the tax sale process and helped to get the first floor ready for the new tenants.

“He has a lot passion for this building,” she said. “He’s a part of this building.”

Two years ago, Mr. McCarthy acquired the tax sale certificate from ICA Renovations III LLC, the Marietta investment firm that held the $17,500 mortgage on the downtown structure. He planned to convert the century-old landmark into an educational and performing arts center.

The Democrats were forced move from their headquarters in the Lincoln Building on Public Square because of a planned restoration there. They are renting out a three-office suite in the Masonic Temple.

On Thursday, the refurbishing made its debut when about 120 supporters of Colleen M. O’Neill were inside the building for her campaign announcement for Jefferson County sheriff.

“I’m glad they got to see it,” Ms. Withington said.

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