A pair of longtime buddies are — literally and figuratively — turning the lights on at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Moline.
The 88-year-old stone mammoth and its parking lots take up the entire block between 7th and 8th avenues and 18th and 19th streets, just west of Interstate 74. The building spent most of its life as a primarily private space for Masonic and related fraternal organizations. While the exterior is iconic, its interior has been left largely to the imagination.
But banker Adam Bain and firefighter Blake Humphrey are partnering to open the 48,300-square-foot curiosity to the public.
The two have partnered before on residential real estate. They've known each other since they lived in the same neighborhood as kids. And they stayed close, each serving as the other's best man in their weddings.
Don't let the fact that Bain wears a suit while Humphrey dons flannel fool you.
"People think he's the banker, and I'm, like, the worker," Humphrey said. "He's a carpenter as well."
But taking on the Scottish Rite Cathedral is bringing out more brains than brawn.
"We were looking to break into commercial (real estate)," Humphrey said. "I've driven by that thing; I don't know how many times. I never in a million years thought we'd own that."
Bain had a different experience: About a year ago, he was touring the cathedral with a group that was considering buying it. It had been on the market for about a year. But the interested parties couldn't come up with a reuse plan that had a chance of paying off.
"It kind of fell off my radar," Bain said of the 10 months-or-so that followed. "We had kind of a lull in some of our other projects, and I said, 'Blake, you have to check this out.'
"It was one of the most gorgeous buildings I'd ever seen. So, we both went next time, and we said, 'How do we make this work?' In commercial real estate, it's all about the partnerships you make."
The men knew that one partnership in particular would be critical. Nearly three full floors of the four-story building (counting the basement) are occupied by a beautiful auditorium with a proper stage, 500 permanent seats, a full dressing room and room to either expand the stage or the seating.
Another old friend came to mind: Brent Tubbs and his wife, Sara. Both have lifelong experiences in the theater, and they agreed the cathedral space was ideal. So, the Spotlight Theatre & Event Center was born, and the Tubbses will run the show.
"It is a professional theater, and it always has been," Bain said. "The place was built to look like a cathedral to showcase Mason history and craftsmanship. I'm a Kiwanis member ... and it's very much the same. But the Masons' rituals are more evolved.
"If you were graduating to another level in the organization, you might have had to perform something; say, something about one of the long-ago Masons, like George Washington. That's what the stage was for."
The stage now will get new uses: plays and musicals, speakers, concerts, comedians. A 350-seat reception hall also will bring the old building into public view. The partners are negotiating with a catering company that will help put the space and its 2,000-square-foot kitchen to use for wedding receptions and the long list of events that such spaces were designed to accommodate. The caterer also will acquire a liquor license that can be used in all areas of the building, using pop-up bars during theater performances, for instance.
Before buying the cathedral, neither Bain nor Humphrey knew much about the Masons or the theater. Both have since studied up. They're also learning to brainstorm plans for a project much larger than any house flip.
"We are going to light up the cathedral," Bain said. "It is going to glow. That building is going to pop. It is going to be a beacon in downtown Moline."
Besides showing off the architecture, precisely placed LED lighting will attract the attention of the estimated 50,000 vehicles that pass it daily, the pair said.
"If we can accomplish what we hope — and I think we will — it will be the most amazing, lit-up building in the Quad-Cities," Humphrey said. "We're still brainstorming the lighting ideas, and we know it's going to be expensive."
Though the pair doesn't close on the transaction until March 1, their excitement has been mounting daily because of the buzz their buy has created throughout the Quad-Cites.
"How do you take a building like that — so well-built and so well-planned — and make it useful for the next 100 years?" Bain asked. "We believe you do that by making it a destination with multiple uses.
"The place is a mystery and a gem. Until a certain time ... not that long ago, it basically was for Masons only. But there were a lot of them. Someone said to me, 'This was the Facebook of the 1930s.' It was a place for fellowship. The mystery and curiosity about the building is also driving the interest."
Given its right-off-the-bridge location, the partners are confident the cathedral will draw Quad-Citians from both sides of the river, which can be tricky to do.
Ultimately, they plan to add a wine bar and/or coffee shop, but they intend to do very little to the interior, structurally. The Masons, they said, took excellent care of their cathedral.