May 3, 2016

Some type of construction work is being done at the Scientology building in the Crossroads. But for what, who knows?

Steve Vockrodt
The Pitch
May 2, 2016

Church of Scientology
For nine years, this newspaper has asked the same old question: When is the Church of Scientology going to do something with the cool building it bought in the Crossroads Arts District?

Answers are never forthcoming from the secretive religion. 

Scientology bought the former City National Bank building at 1801 Grand in 2007 for a shade higher than $5 million. The building is supposed to become what the church calls an "Ideal Org." Ideal Orgs exist in various places around the country and seem to be central places of activity for Scientologists. While these temples have come to fruition in some cities, North America is dotted with buildings that were supposed to become Ideal Orgs but sit empty or underused today. Kansas City is one of these places.

Last year, The Pitch reported that the building showed signs of neglect and few indications that the building was being used by local Scientologists. The nexus of local Scientology exists at the northeast corner of 39th and Main streets.

Since last year's report, a few of the building's broken windows have been fixed. Still, there are few signs of more meaningful activity. That was until last week, when a blue porta potty could be seen on the roof of 1801 Grand from The Pitch's offices.

Upon closer inspection, it's clear that some kind of roof work is being done. So we asked the Church of Scientology again: What's going on with the Kansas City Ideal Org? So far, we have no answer.

City records show that two work permits have been pulled to do construction there. Nonetheless, little, if any, religious activity is apparent at 1801 Grand.

It matters because Scientology has paid hardly anything in real estate taxes in what's otherwise prime real estate in the Crossroads since 2007. Scientology is recognized as a religion by the Internal Revenue Service (although vocal critics of the faith regard it as little more than cynical money-grab for church executives at the expense of lower-rung followers who pay princely sums to the institution).

The critic's point of view is reinforced somewhat by the progress, or lack of progress, in developing Kansas City's Ideal Org. A Facebook page and a couple blogs dedicated to raising money for the local Ideal Org gives the sense of completion being right around the corner. That's been the message for years.

As a religion, the church has a right to be exempt from property taxes, so long as the church uses property for actual religious purposes. Churches aren't supposed to buy up land and let it sit dormant unless they want to pay taxes like most other property owners. The building at 1801 Grand has a market value of $3.4 million, which translates to a $1.1 million assessed value.

But because Scientology has convinced Jackson County officials that it is indeed using the building for religious purposes, it pays nothing in property taxes. The only tax the building throws off is $4,041 for the downtown streetcar transportation development district, proving that not even L. Ron Hubbard is exempt from paying for the streetcar.

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