Explosive Growth! $.5 Billion Needed!

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Mr. Davis, a second-generation Scientologist, said the buildings, which must be at least 40,000 square feet, cost from $4 million to $20 million each, bringing the price of the current expansion to $500 million. In each case, he said, local parishioners raise money to buy and renovate the buildings.

Bob Wright, the church’s international construction supervisor, said the organization typically looked for buildings “with a presence” in places with significant pedestrian traffic. Those criteria often lead it to historic buildings. Choosing historic buildings gives the church, which was established in 1954, “legitimacy as an established, historical religion and not just some new invention,” said Hugh B. Urban, a professor at Ohio State University who has completed a new book on Scientology.

The property in Pasadena, known as the Braley Building, was built in 1906 as an auto showroom and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Its ground floor, which contains a cafe, a bookstore and a multipurpose room for community events, stays open until 10 p.m. On a recent Saturday, a worker stood on the street handing out cards that offered a free introduction to Mr. Hubbard’s philosophy, called Dianetics.

Whether the church’s current membership needs all these new buildings, or can sustain them, is an open question. Mr. Davis said membership is “in the millions,” with one third in the United States. But the American Religious Identification Survey found that the number of American Scientologists dropped to 25,000 in 2008 from 55,000 in 2001.

And the church has other problems. In recent years, Scientology has faced defections and accusations of abuse by former members. Professor Urban said that opening so many new centers “could be a marketing strategy to give the appearance that Scientology is in a period of massive growth, which would in turn attract people. That’s the kind of thing they’ve done, historically.”

But Mr. Davis said the church’s expansion project had a simple goal: “We are building the cathedrals of the future.”

In the next year, he said, the church expects to add centers in Minneapolis; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Sacramento, Inglewood and Santa Ana, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Portland, Ore.; Melbourne, Australia; Caracas, Venezuela; and Kaohsiung.

In some cases, the old buildings have outlived their original purposes and can be picked up at fire-sale prices.


ARTICLE: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/business/10scientology.html?src=busln
 
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