The Church of Scientology is moving its offices and worship center to downtown Kansas City and has purchased a historic former bank building at 1801 Grand Blvd.
The church plans to occupy the former City Bank Building later this year and then sell its current facility at 39th and Main streets.
The global religious organization was founded in the early 1950s by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard and includes among its members Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
The new facility will serve as the spiritual center for thousands of Scientologists in the Kansas City area and will function as the administrative hub for Scientology social betterment programs for members in western Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
"The acquisition of the City National Bank Building fulfills our dream to find a fitting home for our rapidly expanding Scientology congregation in Kansas City," said Maggie Kittinger, executive director.
The Church of Scientology Web site notes that Hubbard, who died in 1986, had strong ties to the region. He is a native of Nebraska and first publicly announced his Scientology religious belief in Wichita. There are 10 million Scientologists worldwide, Kittinger said, including 3.5 million in the United States.
"In Kansas City, the membership has doubled since 1999, with approximately 10,000 current members," she said.
The local congregation began a search for a new location last summer. The City Bank Building, once known as the Grand Avenue Bank, was on the market for $5.25 million, although Kittinger said the church acquired the property for less. She estimated the cost of the purchase and renovation at $4 million.
The building was completed in 1928 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It had been owned by Sam Lee, and the sale includes two nearby parking lots.
The Church of Scientology has a history of buying historic buildings, Kittinger said. The Kansas City facility will be one of more than 20 historic buildings owned by the church around the world, most of them in the United States.
"Scientology churches are actually considered pioneers and leaders in the restoration of vintage properties," she said. "We know that we can keep the historic beauty of this building and add to the vibrant environment that is being created in the area."
The church plans to occupy all 65,751 square feet, and about 100 staff members are expected to be located there.
The Kansas City Star, which leases space in the building for its advertising and marketing divisions, will remain a tenant until the newspaper moves those operations to quarters it is renovating at its main building across the street at 1729 Grand Blvd.
The layout of the new Scientology facility will include a large area for audio-visual displays about the history and beliefs of the church.
A large, multiuse chapel is planned for Sunday services, weddings and other religious services, as well as special events. Conference rooms will be made available for other Kansas City community and civic groups.
Kittinger said other sections of the building would house community outreach programs, including drug awareness and rehabilitation, education and literacy, human rights, criminal reform and societal moral rehabilitation.
She said the church was pleased to be part of the downtown redevelopment boom.
"Downtown is alive and vibrant," she said. "We want to be able to contribute to the cultural and spiritual growth of the area.
"We want to add to the stability and future of Kansas City, and what better place to do that than right in the heart of the city."