New Law Saves Shriners' Temple

UPDATE, THU, 8:00 AM: The downtown Hadi Shrine is no longer on the city of Evansville's future acquisition list.

In January, the Redevelopment Commission put the Shrine on a list of properties the city wanted to acquire through eminent domain. That led to a lawsuit being filed by the Shriners against the city.

Now, city officials say they have taken the Shrine off their list, although they are still trying to work out an agreement. Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel explains, "We'll continue to work with them, and identify properties. And maybe, at some future point, we'll work out a mutual agreement that everyone's happy with."

The Indiana legislature recently passed House Bill 1010, which makes it more difficult for local municipalities to acquire properties through eminent domain.

The new law helped protect the Shriners from losing their temple, and other riverfront properties.

UPDATE, FRI, 11:00 AM:Newswatch reported Thursday night that, according to the Shriners, eminent domain is no longer a possibility and that they're talking with the city about other acquisition options.

Friday's suit was filed because, by law, the Shriners had to contest the Redevelopment Commission's action within ten days. Now that the suit has been filed, it's the city's turn to respond.

We spoke with Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel Friday. "I mean, we'll file an answer which is, what, the natural course of a legal proceeding."

But the mayor says the city has no plans to follow through with legal action against the Shriners, and no intent to take their property by means of eminent domain. But they will respond legally.

"What we have talked about is we'll do that, then just let the whole matter sit, and if neither one of us prosecute it, it's not going to go anywhere."

That's because both the city and the Shriners believe that the future of the prime real estate where the Hadi Temple sits, can be decided without a legal battle, which is why the two sides would rather talk than fight in court.

"It's a good development site. We want to work with the Shriners. If they have an interest in moving, the city would be interested in acquiring that property for the purposes of economic development. We're going to work with them. We're not going to take the property through eminent domain."

The city of Evansville will have 20 days from Friday to legally respond to the Shriners' lawsuit. Between now and then the two sides will continue their talks in hopes of reaching an agreement over the Temple property, that will make both parties happy.

UPDATE, FRI, 7:00 AM: Fearing the Hadi Shrine Temple might become a 'temple of doom' - local Shriners are suing the city of Evansville.

Officials with the temple say they plan to file their lawsuit Friday, challenging the Redevelopment Commission's decision to place the temple property on the list for possible acquisition through eminent domain.

But it turns out, eminent domain is no longer a possibility.

Hadi Shrine attorney Rod Grove says there will still be a lawsuit because the temple should be put back in the hands of the Shriners.  "What's important here and what you should understand is that, basically, once that decision is made by the Redevelopment Commission, they have in fact, condemned us."

That means the Shriners can't attempt to sell their property or borrow money for repairs. Grove says the Redevelopment Commission has taken the temple off the market and put it in the hands of the city, but the lawsuit could change all that.
The Shriners say they are in discussions with city officials to resolve the issue. Once the lawsuit is filed Friday afternoon, the city must respond within 20 days.

UPDATE, FRI, 6:15 AM: We have a follow up on the Evansville Redevelopment Commission's effort to acquire downtown property - including the Hadi Shrine Temple.

Commissioners say they don't have to prove the Temple is an eyesore, or the legal term "menace," because the commission declared the entire downtown a blighted area in 1984.

So even though the Shrine building has been well-maintained, the city can still acquire it under eminent domain. But city officials hope that never happens.

Previously: The Evansville Redevelopment Commission wants to buy some prime downtown real estate, but one piece of property in particular is getting a lot of attention - and not all of it is positive.

Hadi Shrine Attorney Rod Grove says, "We were never approached by the city. No one said a word to us, so at this point, we're as shocked as anyone."

Rod Grove represents the Hadi Shrine Temple and he attended the Redevelopment Commission meeting, where the city added the Temple that's been at this location for 82-years, to its amended downtown plan for redevelopment - and he was more than surprised.

"And what we do for downtown, there isn't another organization in existence does as much or brings as many people down here on a daily basis, as does the Shrine."

Still, it was unanimous as the Redevelopment Commission voted to add four Hadi parcels, and seven others along the river, to a list for potential acquisition through eminent domain. Now the city has to find that the property is a menace to the wellbeing and development of Evansville, something the Shriners believe won't happen.

Grove explains, "Number one, we don't fit the definition, and number two, we don't qualify under the findings they have to enter as a menace to anything."

Since 1929, the Hadi Shrine has supported 22 hospitals and burn centers and treated over 700,000 crippled children. The city has recognized them for their work. Shriners meet downtown once a week, and several other organizations, like the Daughters of the Nile who consist of wives or family members of Shriners, have fund raisers and meetings there regularly.

They too believe that what the city's doing is wrong.Nancy Markham says, "We've been here for several years and help support the Shriners hospital and we just, we really are appalled at the fact the city would do this."

We were unable to speak with anyone with the Evansville Redevelopment Committee to get a comment.

Meanwhile, the board of directors of the Hadi Shrine will meet sometime before the end of the month and decide whether to take legal action against the city.