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Clayton company pays off Masonic Temple back taxes

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The Masonic Temple, the crumbling downtown landmark threatened with demolition because of unpaid city taxes, apparently has been saved by a prospective buyer who came forward at the 11th hour Friday with a check for taxes for $23,439.46.

Fourth Coast Inc., a Clayton-based firm that specializes in solar, wind and geothermal installation, appears poised to buy the 242 Washington St. building, which faced city takeover had the taxes not been paid by 4 p.m. Monday.

Temple owner Garrett L. McCarthy would not confirm that Fourth Coast is buying the building, but his elation was obvious after an identified woman showed up at City Hall on Friday afternoon with the check bearing the firm’s name.

“It’s a great day for Watertown,” he said at a 4 p.m. news conference. “I’m psyched. I’m happy because we were able to save a part of our history.”

Fourth Coast’s owners, Augusta Withington and Robert J. Campany, could not be reached for comment. It is believed they will stabilize the building and then renovate it.

Before the news conference, at 2:20 p.m., a woman showed up at the city Comptroller’s Office and delivered a cashier’s check for $23,439.46 that paid the delinquent taxes. It gets Mr. McCarthy off the hook from losing the building.

Comptroller James E. Mills said he did not know the identity of the woman. But the check came from Fourth Coast.

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. He would not say how much the Clayton firm is purchasing the building for.

He also declined to reveal plans for it, saying the new owners, in good time, would do that.

“I’m happy it’s in capable hands,” he said.

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 for the downtown structure.

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

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.

Over the past two years, Mr. McCarthy has been trying to drum up support by talking with arts organizations and college and university officials throughout the state to see if they might be interested in creating an arts center in it, which he has estimated would cost about $5 million.

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