By Melissa Evans, Staff Writer. Daily Breeze
In a stretch of downtown Inglewood dotted with shuttered shops and discount stores sits a gleaming new anomaly: a 45,000-square-foot edifice that will serve as the Church of Scientology's South Bay hub.
The church, founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard, bought the vacant building in 2007, fought with the city over whether it could open on South Market Street, and recently showed off the renovated, high-tech center to 5,000 Scientologists, community members and local politicians.
"We are looking forward to being part of this community," Erin Banks, a spokeswoman for the church, said during a recent tour.
It is now the third Scientology church to open in the Greater Los Angeles area, with the other facilities on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and in Pasadena. Also this month, the church opened its first community center, housed in a 1930s-era art deco landmark on Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles.
Both of the new locations were restored and completely renovated. By most measures, the Inglewood facility is not a traditional church.
The building, a former jewelry store that sat vacant for 12 years, includes meeting rooms, offices, a sauna used for religious purposes, a basement bookstore featuring Hubbard's vast works - most available in audio and video format - and a 1,855-square-foot chapel.
Police officials and city leaders, including Inglewood Councilman Ralph Franklin, attended the grand opening of the church and touted its programs and presence in downtown.
Franklin acknowledged, however, that the city questioned whether the church fit into the scheme of its downtown vision. The city's Planning Commission rejected the project in 2010, citing issues such as lack of parking and inconsistency with the business and retail mix of the area.
But a year ago, the City Council unanimously reversed that decision.
"After meeting with them, it was determined that they do have a strong market there," Franklin said. "Downtown Inglewood is the hub of the city, and it would be an opportunity for them to reach out and address the ills of the city, and help with people's mindset."
The church actually outbid the city itself to buy the vacant building in 2007. Inglewood officials had hoped to attract a retail anchor or mixed-use housing development for the site.
But given the down economy, officials said they were pleased to have a tenant make improvements to the building. The church is tax-exempt as a religious entity, but will pay sales tax on books it sells to the public.
Former Mayor and Councilman Danny Tabor, who was on the council when it approved the project, said the city also was obligated to approve the project because of federal laws that ensure religious groups aren't discriminated against in land-use decisions.
After a decadeslong battle with the Internal Revenue Service, the Church of Scientology and its affiliated corporations were granted tax-exempt status as a religious group in 1993.
"It is an attractive building," Tabor said. "We are hoping their investment will stimulate other investments in the downtown area."
The church will be open seven days a week, from 9:30a.m. to 10 p.m. on week days, and will be staffed by 175 church members, paid staff members and volunteers.
"We think this is a great location for people to come in off the street, get information, use our facilities," Banks said. "We want to become part of this community." firstname.lastname@example.org
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