Masonic Temple faces ownership battle

Masonic Temple faces ownership battle
Management group claims legal title in contract breach suit

Detroit — The owners of the world’s largest Masonic Temple made a deal this week to avoid losing the historic venue in tax foreclosure. But another ownership fight still looms over the historic building.

The temple’s former management company contends that it is the legal owner of the massive neo-Gothic building — an allegation longtime owner Masonic Temple Association refutes.

“If there is any new owner of Masonic Temple, it is my client,” said attorney Norman Yatooma, who represents Halberd Holdings LLC, the management company that briefly operated the massive Cass Corridor entertainment and meeting facility.

On Thursday, the Masonic Temple Association cut a deal with the Wayne County Treasurer’s office that will keep the temple from being sold in September’s tax foreclosure auction. The facility had a $152,000 unpaid tax bill. The association paid the county $10,000 Thursday and made arrangements for a payment plan.

Temple Association President Roger Sobran alleged the overdue tax bill came after a brief partnership with Sterling Heights-based Halberd Holdings left the association $500,000 in debt. The association ended the partnership, but a lawsuit and counter-lawsuit over breach of contract and related issues are pending in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Court documents show the Masonic Association entered into a purchase agreement to sell the building. But the Masons terminated the contract because the management company “failed in its mission” to operate the temple.

The legal filings show the Masonic Temple Association and Halberd Holdings LLC remain far apart. The formal relationship between the two began in October 2011 and ended in November 2012, according to court documents.

In the suit, the association contends Halberd failed to pay bills or employees on time, stole parking lot revenue, lost deposits from clients and allowed underage drinking at the concert of DJ Pauly D, star of the “Jersey Shore” reality show. The suit also alleges a Halberd employee may have made “racially derogatory comments about African Americans.”

The lawsuit further claims that Halberd hired a convicted sex offender, and that a worker overseeing tax and accounting services had been convicted of bank fraud.

The lawsuit states: “Halberd completely failed in its mission … resulting in promoters refusing to do business with the Masonic Temple, vendors refusing to provide services without upfront payments.” Attorneys for the group declined comment Friday.

The counter-suit filed by Halberd says that Masonic Temple was overwhelmed with $900,000 debt when the management company stepped in and the relationship with the association quickly deteriorated.

Attorney Yatooma said that Halberd remains the “rightful owner” of the Masonic Temple.

The Masonic Temple takes up the entire 500 block of Temple Street just north of downtown. It has 1,037 rooms and multiple theater and entertainment venues. It was placed on the state’s Historic Registry in 1964 and the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Generations of Metro Detroiters have seen stage productions, concerts, graduations and other events at the facility. Construction began in 1920 and the temple was dedicated in 1926.

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