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Prospective owners waiting to close on Watertown’s Masonic Temple, say they want to ‘bring it back to all its splendor’

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Now that work has begun on the Woolworth Building and the former Mercy Hospital, the crumbling Masonic Temple is the next downtown structure getting attention.

Augusta Withington and Robert J. Campany, who run Fourth Coast Inc., a renewable energy company in Clayton, have not closed the deal to purchase the building at 242 Washington St. yet, but they are making preparations to get it ready when that happens, Ms. Withington said this week.

In June, the two 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. They are buying it from Henderson artist Garrett L. McCarthy, who purchased it last year through the tax sale process.

Ms. Withington hopes to finalize the acquisition by the middle of next year, or “as soon as possible,” she said Wednesday.

“We want to bring it back to all of its splendor,” she said.

The developers intend to rent out the first floor for office space but have no definite plans for the upstairs, where there is a grand meeting room.

“We’ll take our time to find that use,” she said.

City Code Enforcement Supervisor Shawn R. McWayne went through the building earlier this week to see what it will take to issue a certificate of occupancy for the 98-year-old downtown landmark. He advised would-be buyers they will have to complete a floor plan and submit a maintenance and repair permit application before work can start.

In recent days, a construction crew has been patching up the leaky roof. Electricity, gas and water soon will be turned on at the building, Ms. Withington said.

Its interior, especially the first floor, where a law firm most recently was housed, is “in pretty good shape,” with some cosmetic work that has to be done, she said.

The building’s exterior remains the biggest obstacle, she acknowledged. In recent years, chunks of the exterior have fallen off the building to the ground.

A cost for repairing the exterior has not been determined. Loose masonry, however, will be removed or stabilized, Ms. Withington said.

In September, the city’s code enforcement office banned the public from entering the building, saying it was unsafe because pieces of the exterior were falling off.

The building faced possible demolition if a buyer had not come forward and the city took ownership because of the unpaid taxes, Mr. McCarthy said in June.

Two years ago, Mr. McCarthy acquired the tax sale certificate from ICA Renovations III LLC, the Marietta investment firm that holds the $17,500 mortgage on the downtown structure.

Mr. McCarthy planned to convert the century-old landmark into an educational and performing arts center.

Ms. Withington said she believes now is time for restoring the Masonic Temple, citing all the development going on downtown.

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