Guru wants to build peace palace

Arlington: City to decide if holistic institute can be built with tax-exempt bonds

Dallas Morning News/November 22, 2006
By Jeff Mosier

Arlington – The New Age movement that tried to erect the world's tallest skyscraper in Denton County and claims to teach its followers the secrets of levitation and invisibility now wants to construct a palace in Arlington.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation and one-time guru to the Beatles, plans to build 3,000 Peace Palaces worldwide. One of the first is expected to be built on vacant land that was once home to Arlington's poshest inn and later became a magnet for drug addicts, prostitutes and arsonists.

Richard Quinn, a representative of Global Country of World Peace, said people could study transcendental meditation and "Yogic Flying" as well as receive spa treatments and "Vedic" health care at the palace. He said the closest comprehensive facility of its type is in Iowa.

"It's the most thoroughly researched program of natural health care in the world," said Mr. Quinn, a resident of Bay Shore, N.Y. Movement leaders insist that it's a science, not a religion, although it does blend elements of ancient Hindu writing and mind-bending quantum physics.

Ultimately, the group's Web site explains, it expects the Peace Palace to help reduce crime, make countries invulnerable to attack and create heaven on Earth.

The Arlington City Council must decide whether to allow the Global Country of World Peace, which has its own sovereign rule, to construct the 12,000-square-foot palace with tax-exempt bonds. Arlington wouldn't be financially liable for the bonds, but federal law requires the city, county or state to hold a public hearing before the bonds could be issued.

Rejecting the bonds could make the Peace Palace more costly but wouldn't necessarily stop it.

Medical concerns

Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said he would vote against the project and hopes the palace doesn't come to his city. As a physician, he's concerned about their medical claims, especially regarding treatments for cancer, AIDS and other serious diseases.

"If you have a chronic life-threatening disease, you need to receive medical attention," Dr. Cluck said. "If you go to alternative medicine, it's my opinion that you are wasting time. And when you have a serious illness, time is health."

Supporters point to hundreds of studies, many by mainstream institutions, that show the benefits of Transcendental Meditation.

Those studies have often said the TM – as it's commonly called – is beneficial for reducing stress that can play a part in high blood pressure and other medical problems. However, some research has disputed the more elaborate claims, and there has been no scientific proof of claims that advanced mediators can fly, become invisible or affect world events through mass meditation.

Some accounts of the "Yogic Flyers" describe them as young men, sitting in the lotus position and bouncing up in the air – "glorified bum-hopping" as one skeptic called the practice.

At least one Arlington City Council member is concerned about whether the property would be tax exempt since its owner is a nonprofit. Maharishi representatives said they would pay property taxes, although some city officials insist on written assurances.

Easy access

The 19.4 acres on Avenue H East, book-ended by a world-renowned spa and a Shell gas station, would be considered a desirable location for a hotel or industrial business because of its easy highway access and proximity to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Also, a new interchange at State Highway 360 and Interstate 30 could also make for easier access and an even bigger bump in property tax payments.

The site has been owned by several different Maharishi companies since 1993 and is valued at $1.27 million by the Tarrant Appraisal District.

Mel LeBlanc, a City Council member whose district includes the Peace Palace land, said he needs more information and assurances. He's concerned about how the organization ran the former Hotel Santa Fe in Dallas.

For decades, it was the fancy Hilton Inn, with its equally famous Trader Vic's tiki-themed bar, at Mockingbird Lane and North Central Expressway. Later, under the management of a Maharishi company, it was mostly a derelict high-rise with cheap rates and few customers that once served as a way station for a murderer planning to flee the country.

The property didn't start turning around until the new owners bought it for the Hotel Palomar project, with hotel rooms starting at $289 per night, and condos selling for as much as $1.75 million.

"I know there were concerns raised in the past in Dallas," Mr. LeBlanc said. "I want to make sure they are a good corporate citizen."

The Maharishi Global Development Fund, another business arm of the Maharishi, was also a high-profile failure in the local real estate market.

First, the fund vowed to build the world's tallest skyscraper in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but that failed. Shortly afterward, in 2000, it proposed constructing a building just as tall in The Colony, a town of nearly 40,000 that had no skyscrapers.

That failed project also led to an FBI investigation and accusations of conflict of interest on the part of the former mayor of The Colony, who was hired by the Maharishi's company as a real estate consultant.

The organization, however, has successfully built a Peace Palace in the Houston suburbs and a sprawling national headquarters in rural Iowa. The Raj, an Iowa spa, has received national acclaim.

Now, the group wants to bring a little life and peace to a troubled area of Arlington.

The site on Avenue H East, in the Great Southwest Industrial District, sprang to life in 1962 as the Inn at Six Flags.

Once a swanky place

Known as one of the ritziest hotels in town, the occasional celebrity would stay in one of the VIP villas. President Ronald Reagan, during his acting days, spoke at an event, and John Wayne moseyed through at least once.

Its Crystal Palace room was used for formal events and banquets for Arlington's movers and shakers, but the inn deteriorated over the years.

In 1993, then called the Flagship Inn, it was purchased by one of the Maharishi's companies. Later, arson damaged the building and it sat mostly vacant for years. By the late 1990s, it closed and became a draw for teens, vagrants, drug users and prostitutes.

Another fire, also arson, gutted part of the hotel in 2001, and it was torn down the following year.

Now, a couple of tall signs – one proclaims "Flagship Inn Registration" – stand guard over the empty, wooded field.

Mr. Quinn said he fully expects the palace to be built. He said to ignore the for sale sign that's still on the property – it's not on the market anymore.

He also said the existence of the Watson Cemetery across the street wouldn't block the development. The group's guidelines prohibit palaces from being constructed on land where a graveyard is visible from the land or prominently visible when approaching the land.

The Global Country of World Peace Web site says: "If the land does not meet all the following criteria please do not consider this land as a possibility."

"People don't need to be thinking about death when they come to a place to enhance their life," Mr. Quinn said.

But in this case, he explained, it's not a hard and fast rule.

Requirements for peace palace site

The main entrance to the building must be facing east or north.

There is no prominent body of water – river, lake or ocean – near the land to the south or west. If there is a prominent body of water it must be to the north or east.

The land is flat or slopes east or north or can be made flat.

There can be no sunrise delay of more than 12 minutes caused by mountains.

No high-tension power lines may be on the land or near the land.

No graveyards may be visible from the land or prominently visible when approaching the land.

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