Sect spends $7m on new home

Herald Sun, Australia/May 5, 2008

He Church of Scientology has spent more than $7 million on a new Victorian headquarters and prayer facility in northern Melbourne.

The controversial church has also quietly put out the feelers on selling its landmark five-storey Russell St building, which is expected to fetch about $7.5 million.

Scientology officials would not comment on claims that James Packer - who allegedly has links to the church through his friendship with movie star and Scientologist Tom Cruise - had helped finance the new headquarters.

The multi-million dollar moves by the Victorian Scientology branch - which was established in Russell St in 1982 - are being overseen and approved by the church's hierarchy in Hollywood.

The new headquarters, to be based at the former Sisters of Mercy college in Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale, will be renovated in coming months.

The historic property, bought a year ago by the church for a purported $7 million, is situated on the site where the Essendon

Football Club was founded and where 19th century businessman and brewer Robert McCracken built his mansion "Ailsa", which was demolished in 1936.

The century-old college is subject to heritage restrictions but Church of Scientology minister Mary Anderson said the disused building would be carefully restored, renovated and maintained.

"It's a beautiful building. We intend to call it Ailsa," Ms Anderson said.

The coach-house and other buildings now fill the site.

Council approval has already been gained for the property to be used as a place of worship and prayer sessions are scheduled for Sundays and Wednesdays.

Ms Anderson, who declined to comment on the financial aspects of the move, told the Herald Sun the new headquarters would help cater to a growing number of Scientologists joining the church.

"We seem to be pretty busy here and we found ourselves needing a new building and we got one," she said.

"It was really people in the US. They wanted us to look around and find a building that could be considered suitable."

Asked if Mr Packer had helped finance the new Ascot Vale headquarters, Ms Anderson said: "Not to my knowledge . I think people just imagine."

She said a final decision to sell the church's Russell St building would be made by church leaders in the US.

A spokesman for Mr Packer declined to comment on whether he had any involvement in the development.

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