The Church of Scientology describes ambitious plans for the former Hart Hotel, involving not only renovations but how it will be used. The church plans to have several rooms in the downtown Battle Creek building where parishioners, many of whom come from out of town, can stay during weekends, said Mike Delaware, a church executive secretary who is based in Ann Arbor and will oversee the move to Battle Creek.
Also in the works are classrooms and the renovation of the former ballroom, which Delaware says will be available for the public to rent for various activities. The church hopes to be a visible part of the community and is looking at holding concerts and festivals either in the building or across the street at McCamly Park.
"One of the things I can say is that wherever the Church of Scientology has had a property, whether purchased by the church or not, the community has always seen improvement in the community and the people in it," said Margarita Davis, executive director of the Church of Scientology Ann Arbor .
"If there are people in Battle Creek that are looking for the answer to a problem, they do not have to be a Scientologist to get counseling in the church." The sale of the former hotel to the Church of Scientology should be completed within weeks.
Old Kent Bank is selling the building to the church, and a closing date has yet to be determined, said Peggy Janei, an Old Kent spokeswoman. She declined to estimate when the deal may be finished. The church has had an option to buy the building, which it plans to restore to its original state, since December.
Delaware, who said he found out about the building on the Internet, adds he anticipates about 10 church staff members moving to Battle Creek in the beginning stages of the move. Many probably will buy homes in the area, he said.
Mayor Mark Behnke and Janei said they've heard little from residents about the Church of Scientology moving into the former Hart Hotel building. Janei said the bank has not heard complaints from any residents about the pending sale.
"We don't have any concerns about the Church of Scientology," Janei said. "They are planning to restore the building to its original state and that's a great thing for the City of Battle Creek."
Behnke said he's had about six phone calls and letters since the Church of Scientology's plans became public in late December. He said he doesn't have any concerns about the church, either.
"Absolutely not," Behnke said. "I think you need to look at the economic development factor, and that's exactly what they're doing. They're coming into a community and renovating an existing landmark that has not been practical for anyone else in the community to rehabilitate."
Another potential buyer, the Milford-based PM Investment Corp., was interested in the former hotel more than a year ago for an apartment complex for senior citizens. The group was unsuccessful in its applications to earn tax credits from the state and decided it could not afford the renovations, said Larry Wilkinson, president of the development company.
Janei would not reveal how much the Church of Scientology has agreed to pay for the building, how much the PM Group planned to pay nor if the two figures were the same. "That's irrelevant to us," Janei said.