August 17, 2007 — Harlem, beware! The neighborhood long weary of gentrification may soon have to deal with the likes of Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.
The Church of Scientology, known for its celebrity devotees, is making a big push to expand its empire along 125th Street, purchasing three properties there last week, and planning a major recruitment drive in the neighborhood.
The Rev. John Carmichael, president of the church in New York, declined to give details about the purchase, but reports put the total sales price at $10.2 million.
Carmichael said the three buildings – 228 through 232 E. 125th St. – will house a main Scientology complex and a community center that will offer literacy programs and drug counseling.
Two of the properties were formerly owned by St. Samuel Church of God in Christ, which moved a block away.
The church will be exempt from property tax in New York City, Carmichael said, and added that the church has no plans to buy any more property on that block or in the neighborhood.
“It’s 50,000 square feet in all,” Carmichael said. “It’s a pretty generous space.”
Carmichael said the church will also expand its Harlem staff.
While some of those new workers are likely to come from the community, Carmichael said he is more excited about job-training programs that will make Harlemites more employable.
“It will be available to people of all faiths,” Carmichael said. Longtime business owner John Patane isn’t so sure. His business is being pushed out by the sale, and he said he does not know if he can afford to rent elsewhere in the neighborhood.
“They’ve been offering everybody on the block money,” Patane said. “No one should try to change a neighborhood. Unfortunately, they have a lot of money and you can’t stop them.”
The church has had a presence in Harlem since 2003, when it began occupying about 5,000 square feet in a building also housing a Bank of America on Third Avenue at East 122nd Street. In 2003 the church acquired 220 E. 125th St. for $3.45 million. They’re currently renovating a 33,000-square-foot church on that property.
The church also has locations on West 46th Street and East 82nd Street in Manhattan.