The night clubs, shops and lunch spots of downtown Albuquerque are about to get a new neighbor. The Church of Scientology is in the process of purchasing the Gizmo's building at 410 Central SE near Fourth Street, says Gabriel Rivera, a redevelopment planner with City Planning. "From what I've heard, in other places and other cities, [Scientologists] usually locate in the Downtown areas," Rivera says. Local Scientologists confirmed the deal.
Plans for the church are extensive, says Beth Akiyama, director of special affairs with the Church of Scientology of New Mexico. In the rendering, a glass-fronted four-story brick building towers over its neighbors, the Kress building and the Central Market. It will include a bookstore at street level.
The controversial religion (many call it a cult) is most widely known for big-name followers like Tom Cruise and Beck and was founded by pulp fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. There is only one Scientology church in New Mexico at 1319 San Pedro near Lomas. That congregation is moving from its more suburban setting to the 50,000-square-foot space on Central. "Churches of Scientology in major cities around the world are expanding and moving into new, larger buildings that they fully renovate to meet the rapid growth of the church," wrote Akiyama in a news release.
There are several hundred members of the Albuquerque congregation, says Akiyama, and people come in from all over the state. She's not concerned about parking. "We don't necessarily have the hundreds of people coming Sunday morning. They come throughout the week." The church is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Scientology has been in Albuquerque since 1970. "We like the vibrancy of Downtown, and we just want to be part of that scene and help to make it bigger and more exciting," Akiyama says. It's difficult to pin down when the church will be up and running, she adds. "It's hard to predict," she says. "We'll probably have purchased the building very soon, and then we'll have an extensive renovation."
The Downtown area is a special district zoned for arts and entertainment, says Rivera with City Planning. This allows in-house consumption of alcohol. That designation won't change even though a church is moving in. "Present bars or future bars all have that ability to use whatever building space for arts and entertainment, to be a bar or a restaurant," he says.
However, when a church goes into an area, new businesses are subject to state ordinance. When a place that's going to sell alcohol wants to enter the district, the state has to notify the church, a hearing has to be held and the state has to issue a waiver for that new business. "You wouldn't be able to keep that new one from coming in because it's already been established as an arts and entertainment district," Rivera says.
Akiyama says the church has no intention of cramping the style of Downtown establishments. "We're there to be part of the community. And if other restaurants or things are moving in and want to serve alcohol, we have no problem with that."