Scientology on move - maybe

REBECCA STEVENSON
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013

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An Auckland heritage-listed building bought by the Church of Scientology for more than $10 million six years ago may finally become the religious organisation's new home.

The Church of Scientology planned to spread the "applied philosophy" of its founder, pulp fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, from former Whitecliffe Art College headquarters after buying the prominent Auckland site in 2007.

At the time of the sale, church secretary Mike Ferris said the church would fully renovate and restore the building, built in 1927, over two years and expected 100 staff would shift there to provide Scientology services.

The college had not been on the market and the church paid a premium to get it, realtor Kevin Richards said in 2007.

However, the church remains based in a mall in the bottom of an office tower around the corner from the impressive Grafton site.

Historic Places Trust heritage adviser Robin Byron said last week the Church of Scientology was proceeding with an "upgrade and adaptive reuse plans for the buildings at 136 Grafton Rd".

No other information about the church's long-awaited plans has been forthcoming.

A hearing report written for a neighbouring property in Grafton Rd by the Auckland Council and published in May last year also said "the Church of Scientology has resource consent to operate a theological training facility in a scheduled building known as the Whitecliffe".

But any planned move remains unclear as a spokesperson for Auckland Council said it had no record of the church putting in a resource consent application, and no-one from the church responded to requests for comment.

The Whitecliffe property is category two listed, meaning it has historical or cultural heritage significance or value.

It is part of a church-wide push launched in 2004 to open impressive, renovated historic buildings "to meet increasing worldwide demand for Scientology services and community initiatives" called Ideal Organisations, or Ideal Orgs.

Scientology's website says more than 70 properties have been acquired around the world. New Zealand's Ideal Organisation - the Grafton building - is scheduled for construction and completion in 2012/2013, the site said.

Church critics have labelled the programme "Idle Morgues" and claim it is a farcical attempt to prove Scientology is expanding.

The 2006 census recorded 357 Scientologists in New Zealand.

The church's latest available accounts, for the 2011 financial year, indicate the church had 30 paid fulltime staff and a gross income of $842,299 with $419,925 coming from member donations. A further $207,798 came from "service provision", Scientology courses and training.

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It had current cash and bank balances of $415,573, $310,118 in inventory, and non-current assets - land and buildings - valued $6.6 million. Total assets were more than $12m while the church had liabilities of more than $10m.

The church's 2012 accounts were expected at the end of June but the church had sought, and been granted, an extension until August, the Charities Commission said.

- Sunday Star Times

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