Last week, Lake and Main published an article titled A Hotel, The Town and The Masons. It’s about the purchase of a currently vacant lot in the heart of the town by Lexington Hospitality with the intention of building a 90-100 room, Marriott-branded hotel. The property is not large enough for both the hotel and the necessary parking to service it. A Hotel, The Town and The Masons relates how the Town of Lexington, under the direction of Mayor Steve MacDougall, is attempting to acquire property across W. Butler Street from the land on which a hotel is being built. That property belongs to Lexington Masonic Lodge #152 and includes their two-story lodge building. To obtain that property, the Town of Lexington has considered “condemning” it by evoking eminent domain and build either a parking lot or garage.
The article has stirred interest and controversy in Lexington. As it should. Much of the hullabaloo is righteous indignation, even anger. Not only do citizens dislike eminent domain, they’re upset that such an action would be taken against a revered institution like the Masons.
Debunking the Skeptics
The story has skeptics, saying it’s “full of speculation.” One Facebook contributor, Lexington Town Council Member Steve Baker, a MacDougall ally, claimed the piece was “misleading.” He offered only one point that he considered disingenuous – that what Lake and Main contends was the Town’s “offer” to purchase the property ($300,000) “was not an offer.”
I spoke today with a member of Lexington Masonic Lodge #152 who not only confirmed that the $300,000 was, indeed, an offer, but that the entirety of the article is “accurate.” In fact, this member, with knowledge of the interaction between the Lodge and the Town, even verified that eminent domain was brought up at the very first meeting between the two.
The Town proposed to the Lodge a purchase price based on an appraised value of $300,000. The Lodge, too, had an appraisal that came to more than double that of the Town – $630,000. As reported earlier, Lexington Masonic Lodge #152 would need more than $1 million to relocate and replace their current property. As related to me, the Masons found land priced at $150,000 and got estimates for a new building that came to $1,083,000 for a total of $1,193,000 (one million, one hundred ninety three thousand dollars, four times the Town’s offer) not counting relocation costs.
Enter Senator Katrina Shealy
So intransigent was the Town, State Senator Katrina Shealy was asked to contact Mayor MacDougall on behalf of the Masons. Sen. Shealy confirmed with me that she did so via text on June 24 of this year. This was their exchange as provided by Senator Shealy:
Sen. Shealy: Y’all need to take care of the folks at the Lexington Masonic Lodge. As you know that is a charitable organization that has been there 150 years. They can not afford to move and have a mortgage somewhere. It will look really good for the town to do the right thing here.
Mayor MacDougall: We are working with them and communicating information to them. Negotiations are ongoing and we are committed to a positive resolution for all.
Senator Shealy also told me that the text “was his last response to me on that issue.”
MacDougall Keeps Shealy Note Secret
Curiously, Mayor MacDougall did not inform the rest of the Town Council about Sen. Shealy’s contact – until last week – three months after the fact.
Why would the Mayor conceal something as important as an appeal from a State Senator regarding what he himself said will “will change Lexington forever?”
The Public Can’t Use The Parking?
Lake and Main originally believed that the parking space was going to be public, since the land was to be purchased and the facility constructed with public funds. However, the Mason with whom I spoke today informed me they were told the lot/garage is intended exclusively for the hotel with signage restricting it to hotel patrons only. In other words, Mayor MacDougall wants to buy a parking facility for Lexington Hospitality.
And Water Service, Too?
More interesting still, the Town of Lexington determined that the side of Main Street on which the hotel is to be built needed more and better water service, so a six-inch pipe was installed. The installation ends, coincidentally, at the vacant lot purchased by Lexington Hospitality. It’s the kind of site preparation normally paid for by a commercial enterprise when it is constructing a new facility. That and parking.
Is Anyone Else Curious?
These expenses are being borne by the Town of Lexington. More specifically, they are being borne by the taxpayers and done without Town Council approval or public knowledge.