Church has deal for property

Consortium to buy Ambassador upper campus

PASADENA — The Worldwide Church of God is selling the last piece of its former Ambassador College campus to the same consortium that bought the Ambassador Auditorium and surrounding administrative buildings last May, church officials confirmed Friday.

An internal memo sent to Worldwide Church of God employees on Thursday says the 17-acre upper campus went into escrow this week with a group that includes Maranatha High School, Harvest Rock Church and Sunrise Senior Living.

“The buyer’s ultimate plans are not yet finalized and the Church will probably remain in use of some upper campus buildings until we move our entire operations to our new facility in Glendora,’ the memo says.

The upper campus, as it is commonly known, borders Orange Grove Boulevard and includes many of the historic mansions and gardens that preservationists and neighbors fought to save when the Worldwide Church of God was planning a housing development on the site.

Bernie Schnippert, finance director for the Worldwide Church of God, acknowledged the contents of the memo on Friday. He declined to state the selling price but said escrow is scheduled to close in January.

“We are optimistic everything will play out according to the contract,’ Schnippert said.

Details of the pending sale remain cloaked by a confidentiality agreement. Statements made by those close to the deal indicate a fourth party may be involved in the transaction, but representatives from the three known buyers refused to comment.

“I can’t comment on anything,’ said David Poole, president of the Maranatha High School board of directors.

Wayne Sant, vice president of Sunrise, said there were “other players involved’ but would not elaborate.

Harvest Rock Pastor Che Ahn would only say, “Harvest Rock is playing a very low-key role in this.’

The consortium calls itself Ambassador Coalition Partners.

Mike Vogler, president of Save South Orange Grove, welcomed news of the sale but warned that if the buyers want to build a “massive’ housing project on the acreage “it is going to be unpleasant for everyone.’

Vogler was also troubled by the lack of disclosure about the buyers and their intentions for the property.

Save South Orange Grove fought an earlier plan to develop the Ambassador campus into housing, saying it would destroy the surrounding neighborhoods and clog the roads with traffic.

Neighbors expressed some relief when the church sold the Lower Campus, which borders St. John Avenue since the buyers said they had no plans to develop housing and would preserve many of the historic buildings, including the Ambassador Auditorium.

Maranatha is converting the mothballed classrooms for use by its high school students. Harvest Rock took the Ambassador Auditorium for its house of worship and has reopened the renowned concert hall to public performances.

The Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living recently announced plans to demolish the administrative building on the lower campus. The company will build in its place a 300,000-square-foot senior care center with between 170 to 190 housing units.

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Worldwide Church of God leaving Pasadena

Officials moving headquarters to Glendora

PASADENA — The Worldwide Church of God will soon leave the former Ambassador College campus, its home base for more than 50 years, for the smaller, less expensive trappings of an industrial building in Glendora.

Bernard Schnippert, chief financial officer for the church, confirmed the Worldwide Church of God is in escrow to buy a 50,000-square-foot office building at 2011 E. Financial Way. The property is being sold by an industrial engineering firm, Caltrol Inc., which plans to relocate its headquarters to Nevada.

“Emotionally, we enjoyed our time on the Pasadena campus, but it is too much facility for us now,’ Schnippert said. He expects the church will close escrow on the Glendora property in early November and will begin moving its offices there some time after the first of the year.

The move is one in a series of steps to downsize the church’s holdings and scale back the size of its administration. Schnippert said the church hierarchy plans to cede more authority to the 400 or so individual parishes across the country.

“I think we are in a good place,’ Schnippert said. “Our plans are playing out on schedule and as desired.’

Once one of the nation’s largest buyers of religious time on TV and radio, the church and its ranks have slowly dwindled since the death of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, in 1986.

A rift erupted between those who wanted to take the church in a new direction, eliminating some of the strict church doctrine and cutting back on the lavish spending that marked Armstrong’s tenure, and those who wanted to hew to Armstrong’s original vision.

Church membership dropped to about 67,000 from about 160,000, and the income fell from a high of about $170 million a year to $25 million.

These changes prompted the leadership to begin looking for ways to dispose of the sprawling, 48-acre Ambassador College campus, which sits in one of Pasadena’s most affluent neighborhoods.

The church put forward plans to develop a massive housing project on the property. Nearby residents vehemently opposed any such project, saying the more than 1,000 homes proposed would spoil their neighborhoods with traffic congestion.

In the end, the church decided to sell off portions of the campus. The eastern third was bought by Sares-Resgis, an Irvine-based developer that wants to build condos and apartments.

The heart of the campus, including the administration buildings and the world-renowned Ambassador Auditorium, was sold to two private religious groups, Maranatha High School and Harvest Rock Church.

The remaining land, about 17 acres bordering Orange Grove Boulevard, is up for sale, Schnippert said.

Meantime, the roughly three- dozen Worldwide Church of God employees remain housed in the Ambassador administration building, which the church is leasing back from Maranatha.

Once the church leaves, Maranatha can move ahead with its own plans for the building. According to David Poole, president of the Maranatha board of directors, the school has tentative plans to sell the building to a senior housing developer.

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