The Farmington Masonic Hall, a 143-year-old Civil War-era building that sits in the center of downtown Farmington, could see Blue Hat Coffee move into the first floor as a permanent tenant if a planned unit development agreement is approved.

The Farmington Masonic Hall, a 143-year-old Civil War-era building that sits in the center of downtown Farmington, could see Blue Hat Coffee move into the first floor as a permanent tenant if a planned unit development agreement is approved.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

New coffee shop moving into Masonic Hall could help preserve historical site

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published June 12, 2019


FARMINGTON — Amidst financial and membership troubles that have stifled the Farmington Masons and the Masonic Temple Board Association’s efforts to maintain and preserve the 143-year-old Masonic Hall, the potential addition of a new coffee shop may be their saving grace.

Over the last several months, Blue Hat Coffee, which currently owns and operates at a historical building in Coldwater, has been working on a planned unit development agreement with the city of Farmington to open up a second location on the first floor of the Masonic Hall. The Farmington Masons will continue to utilize the second floor space as usual.

The Masonic Hall is located on the corner of Grand River Avenue and Farmington Road in the heart of downtown Farmington and is the home of the Farmington Masons, who currently have only 12 active members, a significant decrease from past years, said Gary Bouwkamp, the treasurer of the Masonic Temple Board Association.

Despite its central location, Laura Myers, the chair of the Farmington Historical Commission, said she hasn’t seen a permanent tenant occupy the first-floor space since she moved to Farmington in 1981.

The mayor and the Farmington Downtown Development Authority have been urging the Masons to do something to increase foot traffic into the building for a long time, said Bouwkamp.

Without a permanent tenant there, the Masonic Temple Board Association, which is the legal entity that controls the building’s finances and leased spaces, has had difficulty simply paying the bills, let alone funding major renovations that are needed for the site.

“There’s always been issues coming up with money for the major renovations and bringing in enough incidental rentals to keep all the bills paid,” said Bouwkamp.

Incidental rentals, which have made up approximately 25 percent of the hall’s revenue, are defined as private rentals such as wedding receptions, birthday parties and more. Another 20 percent of the revenue has come from renting out the commercial kitchen, and 13 percent has come from the annual Founders Festival, which has moved locations this year and will not be using the hall’s facilities anymore, another loss of revenue for the historical site.

Blue Hat Coffee Chief Operating Officer Phillip Jewell and his wife, Catherine, who own the coffee shop, are hoping to help alleviate some of the financial pressures on the lodge currently and help with the renovation and preservation of the historical site if they get the final approval from the City Council and the Planning Commission to move in.

“I think the main thing is to take advantage of a beautiful building and make it accessible to the public. There are a lot of historic buildings that aren’t actually used for businesses or for anything, and most of them end up getting torn down,” Jewell said. “So I think the advantage of being in this historic building and making it commercially successful will save the building; plus, it will bring people in to see the facility.”

Bouwkamp agrees that the addition of Blue Hat Coffee would help the Masonic Hall increase revenue, make major renovations and bring in more people to see the space, potentially leading to an increase in incidental rentals as well.

“Looking at Blue Hat Coffee and how successful they’ve been in Coldwater, we are confident of their business ability, and we think they can bring something unique to downtown that will help them and will help us maintain the building like we have for the last 143 years,” Bouwkamp said.

While there won’t be any major renovations happening to the historical building in order for Blue Hat Coffee to move in, there would be some minor renovations — adding an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant entrance to the north side of the building, adding a patio on the south side, and reconstructing the parking lot to be three-hour timed parking. Jewell believes those changes would only enhance the historical site. Jewell said he and his wife have budgeted approximately $100,000 for the entire project.

The Farmington City Council unanimously approved the PUD agreement for Blue Hat Coffee at a May 20 meeting, though it left a few loose ends, including the parking agreement and the placement of a dumpster on-site, to still be decided by the Planning Commission. After the Planning Commission’s final review, the PUD will return to the City Council for a final vote.

As long as the process continues to advance through the proper stages with approval, Jewell said, he is hoping to be able to open between September and October.