Church reaches out

Battle Creek Enquirer/May 23, 2004
By Javier Serna

The Church of Scientology will hold an outreach program today at the Hart Hotel parking lot downtown.

Visitors can get a glimpse of the religion, the programs it offers and its plans to renovate the hotel, which may even get on a list of historical sites.

The hotel site was chosen because of the church's plans to eventually operate there. The building, which was neglected for years, isn't in shape to be occupied.

"It's like a mobile training center to show the community what programs we have available," said Michael Delaware, executive secretary of the Battle Creek church.

Visitors will be offered a tour through the tent, where the 19 aspects of Scientology will be broken down. The church offers programs that deal with each point -- life problems that range from relationships to literacy.

"It gets the message out there that something can be done about people's problems," said Teri Tyler, who's in charge of the event. "Each person can learn something and apply it to their life."

Meanwhile, completion of the hotel's renovation has been pushed back to 2006, church officials said. Work on the grand ballroom and the ground floor may begin by August and be finished by the fall of 2005, Delaware said. Some of the floor plans will be displayed on Sunday.

The church would partially move into the 60,000-square foot hotel when the first phase is completed. A transition period is planned from its current location, a storefront on East Michigan Avenue, where L. Ron Hubbard banners hang in the windows. Hubbard, the best-selling author, founded the religion.

Kathleen Eriksen, downtown development director for Battle Creek Unlimited, was excited to hear of the new plans.

"It's a beautiful building with a lot of potential," Eriksen said of the four-story limestone and marble building. "It has a lot of character."

Eriksen said she'd be happy to help the church to meet the requirements to get the site on a state or federal historical sites registry.

The project is estimated at $2 million, and will be paid for with mostly donations from church members, though Delaware said the church is applying for grants.

The church bought the hotel in 2001, auctioning off its contents later that year.

Thomas Hart bought the hotel in 1937 and the name stuck even after restaurateur Roy Shrank bought it in 1948. Don Harris made it the Hart Motor Inn in 1970.

The hotel was last used as part of the Calhoun County Community Alternative Program Inc., housing non-violent, first-time criminal offenders. That program shut down in December 1999.

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