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Prince Hall Hotel? Freemasons consider new land use

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 4/27/2016, 11:06 a.m.
Local Prince Hall Freemasons are considering redeveloping their Roxbury property into a combination hotel and conference center, something expected to ...
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge property in Roxbury’s Grove Hall is one of the few one-acre parcels in the area. Banner photo

Prince Hall Freemasons from around the world came to Boston last weekend to celebrate the founding of their organization, the oldest black Masonry group. While the Masons commemorated the branch’s colonial roots — beginning with an Irish soldier’s initiation of the first black Freemasons in 1775 and made official with the issuing of a charter in 1784 — members of the local Prince Hall Grand Lodge also have been looking to their lodge’s future.

Local members are considering redeveloping Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Roxbury into a combination hotel and conference center, with full-service, sit-down restaurants, lodge member Louis Elisa informed the Banner. Prince Hall Grand Lodge has served the community for years as a site for concerts, meetings and rallies. But some say the current building does not tap the property’s full potential.

The lodge is a sizable presence on Washington Street, occupying one of only three one-acre parcels in Grove Hall, noted Grove Hall Main Streets executive director Ed Gaskin. As such, the use Masons select for the property will have a major impact on the economic development of the area, Gaskin told the Banner.

“There are not many parcels [here] that are that large. How they’re used is a determinant of the economic development of the area,” Gaskin said. “Right now we have a large parcel that is basically underdeveloped and underutilized.”

The parcel’s proximity to local attractions enhances the potential of any development on the site, City Councilor Tito Jackson said.

“There’s a great deal of potential for the space,” Jackson said. “[It is at] a very attractive location, particularly because it is blocks away from an 18-hole golf course. It is in Grove Hall, which is centrally located and very close to the airport,” he said.

Hotel-conference complex

Prince Hall Grand Lodge has established a nine-member project planning committee, and groups like Grove Hall Main Streets have participated in discussions.

Elisa is one of those planning committee members. The hotel-conference proposal is in the early concept stage, he said, and the committee is fleshing out its idea for the site before presenting it for community response.

The current proposal is for 300 parking spaces and a six-to-eight-story building that comprises a 250-unit three- or four-star hotel, conference center and at least two first-class, full-service restaurants, Elisa said. Other ideas include placing a Grove Hall history and Prince Hall Masonry history museum in the building and providing office space separate from the hotel-conference complex. He anticipated a cost of $40 million or more, with project completion in five years.

Local jobs

Several other uses were proposed for the site, including housing. But the hotel-conference center emerged as the greatest economic generator, Gaskin and Elisa said. Elisa expects the hotel-conference center to generate 200 permanent jobs — more than would be gained from another option, which involves providing senior assisted living housing. With many residents commuting outside the neighborhood for work, local jobs are an especially valuable addition, Gaskin said.

“[This development] has the highest and best possible return on investment,” Elisa said. “A hotel and convention center creates tremendous opportunities for the community and entrepreneurship for the community.”

Along with creating on-site jobs, the redevelopment is expected to draw more visitors, which would boost patronage at surrounding businesses. Moreover, the center’s restaurants and entertainment space could optimize existing foot traffic, by enticing those coming to the area for the Franklin Park Zoo or golf course to stay and spend money afterwards, Gaskin said.

The restaurants and other offerings serve the local community as well. Dining options are in heavy demand in Grove Hall, according to Gaskin: Many residents told him that full-service sit-down restaurants are a priority in the area, which is largely served by fast food venues. The center also will have space to continue and expand the sorts of community activities currently held at Prince Hall Lodge, according to Elisa.

Realistic project

A Marriott Residence Inn is proposed for Dudley Square, suggesting such a concept would have traction with developers, Gaskin said.

Elisa considers it a large but very realistic project, and noted that there is a high level of interest in the neighborhood. He expected this to facilitate efforts to involve others on the project. For instance, the team seeks to recruit architecture students to help visualize design possibilities and create presentation boards.