Masonic Temple set to open with flurry of country music acts; interest ‘robust’ for Sphinx Club

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 2,165 views 

One of the meeting/dining rooms in the Masonic Temple in downtown Fort Smith. This room was being prepped for an anniversary dinner for 150 people.

The Masonic Temple in downtown Fort Smith sat mostly quiet for several decades. No longer. Arkansas native and country musician Joe Nichols performs in the Temple’s revamped theater on Aug. 25. Country music legends Charlie Daniels and Dwight Yoakam follow on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, respectively. Country rockers .38 Special perform Oct. 27, and Willie arrives Nov. 16.

“That’s a helluva line-up, don’t you think?” asked Lance Beaty, owner of Fort Smith-based Beaty Capital, which bought the Masonic Temple in November 2014.

It’s a line-up Beaty hopes to help turn an aggressive investment into a good bet.

Initial estimates were to open in November 2016, but the unique construction of the 53,000-square foot building and the need to divert resources to another construction project pushed the opening to August 2017. The 3-story building located at 200 N. 11th St., was designed by architect George Mann of Little Rock in conjunction with architects J.J. Haralson and E.C. Nelson of Fort Smith. It has numerous meeting rooms and a theatre capable of seating 900. It was built in 1928, with solid stone walls and ceilings in most areas that proved a challenge during the renovation.

The entertainment, event center and members-only social and dining club – the “Sphinx Club” – is ready to open. Beaty said the investment is around $5 million, about double the original estimate. The center has several soft opening events and will employ about 25, but should be up to 45 or more employees when fully operational.

Despite the costs of renovating the uniquely constructed facility, Beaty is confident the venue is in a “bullseye” between larger metro areas like Chicago, Dallas, Memphis. St. Louis, Kansas City and Oklahoma City. The Temple’s theater, which features a modern sound and light system that allows bands to “plug and play” also helps recruit talent, Beaty said.

“It has taken us several years of building relationships with these talent agencies, these booking agencies, to show them that we’re just a few minutes off of I-40. … We’re in that bullseye as artists travel between those major metro areas, and we’ll take advantage of that,” he said.

Balcony view of the stage in the 900-seat theater in the Masonic Temple in downtown Fort Smith.

Beaty is also confident that what he is billing as the “exclusive” Sphinx Club will be popular and drive revenue for the non-theater side of the business. The club is limited to 380 memberships with a certain number of people allowed based on the level of membership. The goal is that the club will recreate the old-school town club feel in which management, wait staff and bartenders knew the whims and preferences of the clientele.

Sphinx Club memberships may include VIP seating at theater events, first shot at event tickets, and “VIP experiences” such as private viewing areas for the Super Bowl and other televised events. Beaty said response to the club has been positive, with surprise interest from “some of the 25-year-old professional class in Northwest Arkansas” looking for a unique experience.

“I really expect in the first month we’ll be fully subscribed,” Beaty said when asked how long it might take to sell the limited 380 memberships. “We’ve had a robust interest in the club.”

Beaty also said club chef and staff will work to source local food, providing a farm-to-plate offerings for as much of the menu as possible.

The club’s soft opening is set for sometime in September, Beaty said, with details on membership costs to be posted later to the Temple’s club page on the website.

The bottom line is that Beaty is optimistic the unique venue will be a success is because it offers wide-ranging options to the musical and other performance acts, events, meetings and other gatherings that can be held.

“We’ve taken a building that other local developers have passed on because of the complexity. I mean, you just don’t see these kind of structures, and you couldn’t afford to reproduce it. … But we have repurposed the building as a meeting and gathering place and have come up with a business plan to monetize that,” Beaty said when asked about the development risk.

He’s taking the model to other cities. Earlier this year Beaty Capital Group acquired the Masonic Temple and Performing Arts Center in Cleveland with plans to invest $18 million in its renovation. Beaty Capital paid $725,000 for the 102,000-square-foot building. Beaty said the 60,000-square-feet of theater space is in relatively good shape and is open now for events. He told Talk Business & Politics that the Cleveland temple may not be the last Masonic facility he acquires.

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