Decision on Scientology sign for Detroit site postponed

Candice Williams and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Church of Scientology is scheduled to return to the Detroit Historic Commission at the end of the month with its request for approval of a sign atop a vacant building across from Hart Plaza.

Church officials want to install a Scientology sign on the Standard Savings Building, last occupied by the Raymond James investment company.

It also wants to put a vertical Scientology sign on the side of the building, a vertical cross above the front door, a roof deck and 12-foot screening walls for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment on the roof, commission chairman Devan Anderson said.

The application was tabled Wednesday by the Detroit Historic District Commission, which asked church officials and Gensler Architects to examine alternatives, Anderson said.

Anderson said the commission didn't have a big problem with the signage, noting that the building currently displays a large "Raymond James" sign. The Scientology sign would use the same infrastructure and essentially replace the existing sign.

Rather, the main concerns are with rooftop logistics, including the placement of proposed mechanical screening and a railing that could have "a detrimental impact on the appearance of the building," he said.

"We asked them to take a little more time ... to look at why they were proposing what they were proposing," Anderson said. "It looked like there were other options."

A Gensler representative has referred questions to the church, which bought the vacant, eight-story building at Griswold and West Jefferson for $3.5 million in 2008 to establish its Michigan headquarters.

In an email early Friday, officials with the Los Angeles-based church said: "The acquisition of this historic and beautiful property is part of the Church's program to establish Ideal Churches of Scientology around the world. ... Several more of our Churches are scheduled to be opened within the coming months as they have construction schedules well in progress.

"This is a moment of great anticipation and tremendous excitement for the staff, volunteers and parishioners. The Church in Detroit is on this same launch pad. And in fact designs for this building are well in progress now."

Anderson noted the commission's request Wednesday should not prevent work from beginning inside the building.

The church said its Detroit arm acquired the 49,947-square-foot building with money raised by the local congregation. Its website lists Detroit as among the cities in the U.S. where "new properties in planning or construction stage" were projected to open last year or in 2015.

Initial plans for the site after it was bought in 2008 included a chapel, lecture rooms and meeting space for the church's community service programs.

The church, which counts actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta as members, said at the time it would relocate most of its operations from Farmington Hills.

Church officials said at the time the expansion was a response to increased demand and to help meet the needs of area church members.

According to the website, since the first church formed in 1954, "more than 10,000 Scientology Churches, missions, related organizations and affiliated groups minister to millions in 165 countries."

The commission has to decide whether to approve or deny the application within 60 days.

Staff Writer Christine Ferretti contributed