The Sammons Center Wants 508 Park Ave., Masonic Temple. All They Need is Money.

As I wrote Friday, the owners of 508 Park Avenue will ask the City Plan Commission tomorrow for permission to demolish the building, after the Landmark Commission and its Central Business District Task Force already told Bennett Glazer to put down the wrecking ball and back away slowly. But as it turns out, there is an interested buyer: the Sammons Center for the Arts.

Joanna St. Angelo, the center's exec director, tells Unfair Park today that she's "very interested in the property," as well as the neighboring Masonic Temple on S. Harwood Street, which Realtor Candace Rubin has been trying to sell as one package for almost a year. St. Angelo says the Sammons, which serves as the rehearsal space and performance home for more than a dozen permanent performing-arts "clients" and dozens more "non-resident" users, has outgrown the former Turtle Creek Pump Station and needs more space for a second outpost. She envisions using the Masonic Temple as a performance-rehearsal space and 508 Park Avenue as an office complex -- complete, perhaps, with a museum acknowledging its history as the spot in which Robert Johnson, Charlie Parker and Bob Wills recorded.

There are, of course, myriad roadblocks -- chief among them an economy that has all but crippled nonprofits' efforts at fund-raising and the death in January of Elaine Sammons, who served as the center's chair, chief benefactor and, of course, namesake.

"The two properties would be perfect for us to develop a second facility, but we're not in a position to say, 'Yes, we will do this, we can do this," St. Angelo says. "As a small nonprofit, we're struggling like all nonprofits. And after the death of Mrs. Sammons, we're still trying to put new leadership in place. It's just a matter of priorities, and ours is making sure we can sustain our original facility before expanding into another. In the best of all possible worlds, we wish we were in a position to develop the buildings into a similar facility, but it's not the best of all possible worlds."

St. Angelo says she's been in contact with Rubin, who's well aware of the Sammons Center's interest in buying the properties. And in recent days, she says, she's been told Bennett Glazer -- or, at least, his representatives -- are willing to sit down and discuss their options. The Sammons has also been involved in "an ongoing dialogue" with the Masons, as St. Angelo puts it. Still, though ... there's the money.

"We're extremely interested in developing a second facility," she says. "There's a great demand for it -- we've had a wait list from Day One, for the last 21 years. We provide the infrastructure for small, medium and large arts organizations for whom the endgame is performing in the Arts District. But we're the place where that daily work happens, and there's evidence to support the idea that more similar space is needed. But the timing is just terrible because we've gone though this major dislocation with loss of Mrs. Sammons."

Before the center can engage in serious conversations with the Glazers and the Masons, she says, "we need to make sure we can manage this space. We need campaign leadership and major donors interested in seeing that kind of a project move forward. But think about it: That sort of no-man's land downtown would be completely animated by a space like this. We have 1,500 people through our space now a week, and we could double that with a second space. We're just full. We're absolutely full to the rafters. We would love to have the opportunity if all things could work out."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky