Scientology 'skyscraper' - could it open in Philly this year?

Exterior of PMC Group Building at 1314 Chestnut St. This is the proposed site of a Scientology Headquarters in Philadelphia.

For a contribution of $8,008, members of the Church of Scientology can get a lapel pin, a paperweight, some photographs of founder L. Ron Hubbard, and have their names on a plaque, someday, inside a 15-story building on Chestnut Street.

The church purchased the former Cunningham Piano building across from Macy's near 13th Street in 2007 for $7.85 million to replace its Philadelphia headquarters a half-mile down on Race Street.

Since the purchase, the building has sat - dark, empty and tax exempt.

Recently, some Scientology-related posters have been placed in the windows. The building has collected paperwork for about a dozen violations from the city Department of Licenses & Inspections.

An L & I spokeswoman, citing information from Scientology consultants, said there could be some movement on the property this year.

"The consultants estimated being ready to apply for permits in the next couple of months but that more time-sensitive work will be needed and will have to wait until spring 2017," spokeswoman Karen Gusssaid.

Asked about the status of the Chestnut Street building, the church replied by email, "maintenance work is being done on the property while we continue preparations for the full build-out and construction."

A website for the Chestnut Street building dubs it the "Philadelphia Freedom Org" and includes renderings of a chapel, a bookstore and an office for Hubbard, who died in 1986.

In a 2011, the church told the Daily News that Chestnut Street would open by 2013 and that church leader David Miscavige would ideally would return to the area to cut the ribbon. Miscavige grew up in Burlington and Delaware counties and joined Scientology as a teenager.

Philadelphia also other has historical significance for Scientology. The $8,008 contribution recommendation for the new building is in honor of Hubbard's 1952 "Philadelphia Doctorate Course lectures," which a church flier calls "the largest single body of work on the identity, character and potentials of the spirit of Man ever assembled."

The church's critics, including former Village Voice writer Tony Ortega and former high-ranking members Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, have long said the new "Ideal Org" buildings opening worldwide are merely a way for it to raise money as it loses followers amid constant controversies.

The church has claimed there were 10,000 followers in "Philadelphia/New Jersey area" but one former local member told the Daily News last year that number was closer to 50.

Scaffolding was erected in the rear of the Chestnut Street building last year and out front posters were placed in the windows, each touting a different "way to happiness." One said 'Don't be promiscuous."

Meanwhile, the church's Race Street location continues to advertise on Craiglist Philadelphia, claiming it can help with everything from public speaking and stress, to relationships and anxiety.

"Are you curious about whether you have lived before this life? Or who you were?," the church wrote. "If you are to any of these questions, come join our group."

Larry Steinberg, senior vice president at CBRE in Philadelphia, said the Chestnut Street property should be thriving.

"I am not aware of any plans that the Church has submitted for development of this property since they have owned it," Steinberg said in an email. "It's a real shame that this property is sitting fallow on a street and a block that is showing strong activity and interest from some new, quality retailers."

narkj@phillynews.com

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@jasonnark