Friday, May 27, 2011

Crystal Cathedral To Be Sold As Church Files For Bankruptcy

SANTA ANA, Calif. - The Crystal Cathedral, the gleaming architectural landmark in Orange County that has been a Southern California attraction for decades, will be sold as a method of exiting Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reconciling millions in debt, church officials confirmed Thursday.

A reorganization plan could be filed in a Santa Ana court as early as Friday.

The Garden Grove megachurch, founded by Robert H. Schuller, was also the birthplace of the enormously popular weekly televangelist series "Hour of Power." But faced with decreasing revenues over the last few years, the church filed for bankruptcy protection in October, saying it owed more than $50 million to creditors, including vendors who assisted in the church's famed Christmas and Easter services.

Worship services and community outreach programs would not be affected by the reorganization, church spokesman John Charles said.

Under the proposed plan, the 40-acre campus would be sold to a real estate investment group, which alleviates financial pressure from a $36-million mortgage, Charles said. He would not divulge the sale price or the investment group.

The church also has a guaranteed option of leasing the campus for 15 years. After four years, the church can buy back the core portions, including the 10,000-pane cathedral, the 13-story Tower of Hope, the welcome center and the cemetery.

"It's great news," Charles said. "It gives us the opportunity to pay everybody off and start fresh."

The only building the church cannot buy back is the four-story Family Life Center on the campus, said Marc Winthrop, a bankruptcy lawyer for the church. The center is already for sale.

The plan, which could be approved at a June 1 bankruptcy court hearing, will allow the cathedral to repay more than 550 creditors in the next 42 months.

Since filing for bankruptcy, the church has been mired in controversy. Financial documents related to the case revealed generous pay and tax allowances for cathedral officials. Then, in March, choir members were outraged after being asked to sign a sex covenant some perceived as anti-gay.

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