Church of Scientology buys historic CBD building in PE

The Herald, South Africa/January 30, 2008

One of the historic landmarks in Port Elizabeth's central business district - the United Building on the corner of St Mary's Terrace and Govan Mbeki Avenue - is soon to have a R6-million facelift, adding a new look to the inner city.

The building has been bought by the Church of Scientology, which wants to turn it into its regional headquarters, for about R8-million.

Recently approved by the commissioner of revenue as a public benefit organisation, and also tax- exempted, the church has also recently acquired new property in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.

The Port Elizabeth building originally housed the United Building Society, then Boland Bank and the Consumer Credit Bureau.

The church's director of external affairs for Africa, Paul Sondergaard, said yesterday: "We see our investment in Nelson Mandela Bay as a contribution to the upliftment of the area as has been so well demonstrated by the Mandela Bay Development Agency at the recent opening of Govan Mbeki Avenue."

Sondergaard said the building would serve as the church's regional headquarters and house its community programmes. Renovations will start in the first half of this year.

Sondergaard said they were committed to restoring the building "to its former glory to add to the heritage of Port Elizabeth".

He said the church had been successful with its anti-drug and human rights campaigns.

It also has a volunteer ministry - an international help and disaster relief organisation with a membership of 100 000 worldwide - that has been involved in such disasters as the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina in the US, the South East Asian tsunami, and the cyclone in Mozambique.

The MBDA has introduced special tax rebates for investors who buy old buildings in Port Elizabeth's CBD and renovate them.

Last week, it gave a long lease to local developer Pambili to redevelop the old PE Tramways building in lower Valley Road into an up-market arcade. The project will cost about R100-million and construction is set to start in April.

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