Temple Live in downtown Fort Smith off to a ‘fortunate’ start despite some ‘early curveballs’

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 3,012 views 

One of the meeting/dining rooms in the Masonic Temple in downtown Fort Smith.

More than 3,000 people from 20 states have attended concerts at Temple Live about three months after the former Masonic Temple in downtown Fort Smith opened as a fully repurposed facility for entertainment, events, and including a special membership club.

Those numbers are set to grow. American icon Willie Nelson will play the venue on Thursday (Nov. 16).

“When Willie Hugh Nelson was born in April of 1933 in Abbott, Texas, the Fort Smith Masonic Temple had already been in operation for four years. This Thursday the 84-year-young Willie Nelson will bring his iconic sound to TempleLive Fort Smith. The sold out show for this world renowned artist is just the latest of TempleLive concerts offered in the historic facility,” noted a statement to Talk Business & Politics from Temple Live developer Lance Beaty.

The venue was set 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.

Investment in the entertainment, event center and members-only social and dining club – the “Sphinx Club” – 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, said Beaty, who is president of Beaty Capital Group.

Beaty said Wednesday that other “big names” are set to appear at Temple Live, but would only tease that Ron White is one of those. White, a comedian known for his “You can’t fix stupid,” line, is scheduled for a May 12 concert.

Temple Live opened with Arkansas native Joe Nichols. Country icon Dwight Yoakam and hard rock Grammy Award winner Halestorm also performed at the venue. Charlie Daniels and .38 Special were also set to perform within the first 90 days, but Hurricanes Harvey and Irma sidetracked those shows. The .38 Special concert was reset to Feb. 3.

“We have been fortunate to have had some great acts to open with,” Beaty said. “We had a few curveballs thrown at us when hurricanes impacted show schedules but we have been able to work through that and we are excited about 2018.”

While he is pleased with the early results, Beaty admitted that not all has been smooth.

“We had to go 15 feet below grade, stabilize and waterproof the building and then start from there. Along the way we had some construction surprises due to the age of the building and we had to relearn some skills in order to do things that almost no one does any more to restore the building,” Beaty said.

Beaty also said development included a struggle to integrate electrical and mechanical systems in the almost 90-year-old building so that the historic value and appearance was not harmed.

“The result is a building that offers a step back to a more elegant time while providing the comfort of high efficiency room conditioning and the audio and visual experiences of the best available technologies,” Beaty said in a statement.