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Trinity Episcopal Church’s empty parish house may be linked to Masonic Temple project

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Garrett L. McCarthy has been working on grand plans for the crumbling Masonic Temple in Watertown for several months.

While those efforts continue, he now hopes to revive another troubled downtown landmark: the parish house at Trinity Episcopal Church that has sat vacant for the past couple of years.

Mr. McCarthy, a Henderson artist and the president of that community’s historical society, hopes to save and redevelop the two buildings into an arts and education cultural center. Under his plan, the two buildings, just a block apart and divided by a city parking lot, would be developed into “a city campus.”

“They would be such a loss for the city” if they were demolished, he said, adding that a gaping hole would be left in the city’s landscape without them.

Mr. McCarthy said he envisions turning the parish house, at Stone and Sherman streets, into a visual arts center. It already has classrooms that could be used for instructional space. The Masonic Temple, 242 Washington St., would be ideal for a performing arts center with its open space and stage in the second-floor grand meeting hall, he said.

Both buildings would take an estimated $5 million to restore.

In recent months, Mr. McCarthy has talked to officials from Jefferson Community College and the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services about having them as potential tenants at the Masonic Temple.

Two weeks ago, Thomas J. Finch, JCC vice president of academic affairs, and Marvin H. Blachman, dean of liberal arts, toured the 87-year-old Masonic Temple to see whether it could be a future site for program expansion. Neither Mr. Finch nor Mr. Blachman could be reached for comment.

Mr. McCarthy also plans to approach other universities in the region and across the state as possible tenants for the arts and education center, explaining that he hopes for “a consortium of colleges that would become involved.”

He approached Trinity Episcopal Church officials with his idea in February, and Trinity’s vestry voted this spring to donate the 40,000-square-foot hall, but only if the project proceeds, Mr. McCarthy said. He already has acquired the Masonic Temple.

In 2010, the church built a new parish house because the cost of renovating and maintaining the old one was too high. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation would not allow the older structure to be demolished, so it was “mothballed.” It was built in 1912 by Emma Flower Taylor, philanthropist and daughter of former Gov. Roswell P. Flower.

Mr. McCarthy said he already has started looking for private and public funding for the project, with the help of the Preservation League of New York State to find grants. He also hopes to obtain financial assistance through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council’s next round of funding.

“There’s a real need for an arts center in this community,” he said. “I’m still working on a business plan and getting organizations interested.”

Two consultants with expertise in art projects also have been approached for advice. Ronald Eligator, principal consultant at Acoustic Dimensions, New Rochelle, and Peter Rosenbaum, senior associate at Fisher Dachs Associates, New York City, will help with planning the performing arts center, Mr. McCarthy said.

Several months ago, Mr. McCarthy attended an Advantage Watertown meeting to talk to its members about his plans.

Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, said he had not heard about the Trinity Episcopal Church portion of Mr. McCarthy’s plans. “It sounds like he’s doing everything else he said he was going to do,” Mr. Mix said.

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