Scientologists to spend $10M on Winnipeg landmark

The Church of Scientology plans to spend up to $10 million to convert a landmark building in the Exchange District into a church and community outreach centre.

Rev. Yvette Shank, president of the church’s Canadian office in Toronto, said the church plans to undertake a major refurbishing of the 115-year-old Peck Building, which it quietly acquired last March for a previously unheard of price for the Exchange of $2.2 million.

“We love it,” Shank said of the six-storey, brick-and-stone building at the northeast corner of Princess Street and Notre Dame Avenue. “When we’re finished with it, it will be a beautiful building.”

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Quackery and spiritual flim-flam pays off big for the Church of Scientology. Its practice of buying up landmark buildings is seen as an attemp to buy respectability.

Shank said the church expects to spend between $7.5 million and $10 million to refurbish the 50,000-square-foot-plus building. It hopes to complete planning by the end of this year “and that will dictate our schedule” for renovations.

Bill Thiessen, a commercial agent with RE/MAX Performance Realty and a former business development officer with CentreVenture Development Corp., said it costs about $150 a square foot to bring a building like that up to building code standards.

The Peck Building is one of two Exchange District properties that are slated to undergo a major refurbishing. The other is the nearby Bell Building at 370 Donald St., which also changed hands last year.

A spokesman for its new owner — I. Rentz Real Estate Management Group Inc. — said the local property management and development firm plans to convert the 80 to 90-year-old, six-storey building to commercial/residential use.

Ian Rentz declined to reveal how much the company plans to spend on the project. He said plans call for a restaurant/bar and offices on the main and basement levels, and luxury and “more economical” apartments on the other five floors.

Rentz said the interior has already been gutted and he hopes to begin retrofitting the building this fall and to complete the work by the spring of 2009.

He also declined to say what the company paid for the building, which he purchased from the same Winnipeg couple that owned The Peck Building — Mike and Del Stevens, owners of Gray’s-Carter’s Auction and the Antique Warehouse.

Shank said the church is in the midst of an aggressive expansion of Canadian operations that includes the recent purchase of heritage buildings in Toronto, Quebec City and Montreal.

She said the church had been looking for several years for the right building in Winnipeg, and was willing to pay a premium to get it.

The Church of Scientology of Winnipeg leases a small office on Garry Street. However, Shank said it needs a lot more space so it can offer a much broader range of programs and services to its members and to the community, including a drug rehab, drug abuse education, literacy and human rights education programs. It also will include spaces for spiritual counselling, classrooms, a community room, conference rooms and a “state-of-the-art event hall which will be available for the community to use freely.”

Shank said the Winnipeg church has been in operation since 1981 and has several hundred members and about 10 to 12 employees. She said she expects both to more than a triple once it moves into its new quarters.
She said the church intends to use all six floors of the building, which means the current occupants — Gray’s-Carter’s Auction and the Antique Warehouse — will eventually have to move.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday February 2, 2008.
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