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New life for another historic building?

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

KNIGHTSTOWN — Could the historic Masonic Building be given a new life, just like the once-doomed Knightstown Academy?

The downtown building, once on the infamous “10 most endangered list” by Indiana Landmarks, now belongs to the town. Recently, Town Council members discussed turning the building over to the Knightstown Redevelopment Commission, established earlier this year – with some strings attached.

“We have the right to put some restrictions on it as the owner,” Knightstown Town Council President Sarah Ward said. “I think there needs to be some time restrictions, or it may look like it does now in five years. I don’t think the timing should be unlimited.”

According to the Arcadia “Images of America” book on Knightstown by Karen Trent, the building dates back to the early 1900s.

Ward also asked for assurance the vacant area next to the building – the former site of the Bullett Hole and its parking lot – be paved.

“I don’t want to see it gravel for the next 20 years,” she said.

“To make that a buildable site, it would have to be excavated,” Building Inspector Ben Bowling said. “I would never recommend anyone build on that like it is now.”

While understanding Ward’s concerns, two other board members urged caution about placing too many restrictions on it and essentially tying the RDC’s hands.

“We have to be careful not to put too many restrictions on that property,” Town Council member Roger Hammer said. “There are a lot of mixed use possibilities. If we restrict it in some way, we might unintentionally stop a mixed use idea.”

New Castle-Henry County Economic Development President and CEO Corey Murphy, who was in attendance at the council’s March 21 meeting, suggested attaching “claw back” provisions, meaning the ability to reclaim the property, with any Masonic Lodge developer, providing protection for the town and retaining some control over the property.

Town Council member Kevin Knott also suggested teaming with Knightstown Forward, a non-profit organization that helped secure a grant to improve Hoosier Gym.

“I think we need to think this through a little more,” Knott said. “I think there are some other things possible. I think working with Knightstown Forward jointly with the town or the RDC, there could be some other ideas.”

The Masonic Building was deeded to the town last year as a result of a court settlement with an out-of-state building owner.

Like the Masonic Building, the Knightstown Academy, with its picturesque globe and telescope on the building roof, was once on the top 10 endangered historic building list. But it was saved from the wrecking ball and is now home to Academy Place Apartments.

Clerk-Treasurer Beth Huffman said while giving the Masonic Building to the RDC was smart because it would provide seed money for the new organization to operate, she also suggested the new RDC reimburse the town for expenses.

“It seems reasonable to me that the town be reimbursed,” Huffman said. “We’re going to be moving our town hall and have a lot of costs associated with that move. We’re going to have costs involved with the second story of that move. Any dollars the town can recoup would be helpful. It seems like that would be a reasonable request.”

Town attorney Greg Morelock plans to have a resolution for the council to consider regarding handing the Masonic Building over to the RDC at the 7 p.m. Thursday, April 18 meeting.