Sonic Temple venue in limbo

In November 2003, Jerry Johnson announced he and partners Brad Ziegler and Jim Womack were in negotiations to buy the vacant Masonic Temple at 1001 Mass. The idea was to convert the venerable building into a 700-capacity music venue known as the Sonic Temple.

This week that changed.

"The official status is that our contract expired on April 15," says Johnson.

"The bottom line is that we could not get the project financed as required to do it. The big factors in that are the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility issue, which turned out to be very expensive. And the size of kitchen that is required to generate the 55 percent of our income that came from food -- as required by the city code -- was so expensive as to take the project out of good cash flow."

That 55 percent code was enacted by the city in the early 1990s to keep new bars from opening downtown. Only properties that have been grandfathered in are exempt from showing that 55 percent of the total food and beverage sales come from food. This is why a neighboring venue such as The Jackpot Saloon can open, because its former occupant -- La Tasca -- already had prior approval.

The policy isn't so welcoming to businesses trying to open from scratch.

"The idea behind that is to control the number of drinking-only establishments," says Johnson. "The City Council's quote (at the time) was, 'We don't want this to be another Aggieville (as in Manhattan).'"

Although Johnson won't quarrel with that general goal, he and his two partners have not given up on the Sonic Temple.

"We are still interested and are trying to reshape the project so that it works."

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