Published: May 26, 2011
Updated: 8:37 p.m.
Crystal Cathedral to be sold to pay millions in debt
By DEEPA BHARATH
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
GARDEN GROVE Crystal Cathedral Ministries will sell its gleaming glass sanctuary and tower that have been an Orange County landmark for decades as a way to emerge from bankruptcy, pay its creditors and erase its $36 million mortgage, officials said Thursday.
The church plans to sell the campus to a real estate investment group with a guaranteed 15-
Marc Winthrop, the attorney representing the cathedral in bankruptcy court, said the plan will ensure that the church can continue its ministry and other programs unhindered.
"The purpose of this plan is to generate funds to repay creditors without affecting the ability of the ministry to operate," he said.
No details have been released about the purchase price or the identity of the investor. But Winthrop confirmed that "there is a buyer and a seller." The church owes about $7.5 million to unsecured creditors including many longtime vendors who provided services for its annual Christmas and Easter pageants.
Church administrators say the cathedral will continue its local worship services, community outreach programs and its weekly "Hour of Power" broadcasts. Also, the plan will immediately eliminate both the church's mortgage and the majority of its vendor debt, they say. Any remaining vendor debt will be repaid over the next 42 months, officials say
Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, who took over leadership of the megachurch from her father and founder, Robert H. Schuller, said this plan was picked over other proposals because it repays the vendors quickly without interrupting the ministry's work.
"We are pleased that we are able to honor the debt that we have incurred and to honor the creditors who are due their payment," she said in a statement. "To pay them back 100 percent has always been a top priority and we are grateful to God for providing the resources to be able to do just that."
Kristina Oliver, who is owed $57,000 for supplying livestock for the "Glories," said she is optimistic that the church will pay her. Oliver's home went into foreclosure after the church refused to pay her what was due.
"I would just be relieved to put all this behind me and move on with my life," she said.
Anne Waltz, who joined the church 57 years ago as a member of its first choir at the Orange drive-
"This church needs a dynamic preacher to survive at this point," she said.
Ken Waltz said he is saddened to see the fall of a church that was built from the ground up by the older Schuller, who wowed Orange County's faithful with his powerful message of possibility thinking.
"The church has done so much good for the world," he said. "We hate to see it all muddied up like this in the end."
Ken Waltz also questioned the viability of the church's plan to emerge from bankruptcy.
"If they don't have the money now, how will they have the money to buy back the church four years from now," he said. "There are a lot of questions here."
He added that a church needs three elements to be successful; a powerful message in the form of a dynamic preacher, fellowship and divine music.
"The fellowship's still there at the cathedral," he said. "But they've lost their preacher and the music. They need to get that back in order to be successful."
Anne Waltz said she misses the music led by artists such as pianist Roger Williams and choir director Don Neuen. Both Williams and Neuen left over differences of opinion with Schuller's daughters who are in charge of the cathedral's programs.
"The music we had was starting to rival the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," she said. "Now we've lost that and we've lost our Glories that brought tens of thousands of people through our doors."
The Crystal Cathedral, over the last three years, has been torn by a family feud that saw the exit of the founder's son Robert A. Schuller. In the year leading up to its bankruptcy filing Oct. 18, the church sold many of its assets, cut about 150 of its staff members and slashed air time by 50 percent. Its congregation has shrunk to less than 5,000. According to bankruptcy filings, donations fell by 24 percent in 2009.
The church, at this point, owes money to about 550 creditors. Among the unsecured creditors are vendors who provided their services to the megachurch's popular "Glory of Christmas" and "Glory of Easter" pageants – both of which have been suspended as a result of church's financial troubles. The Cathedral lost $16.8 million over three years on total revenues of $70.8 million.
The mortgage includes the cost of two more buildings on campus – the Family Life Center and Welcoming Center – which were added in 1990 and 2003 respectively. The mortgage also covers the cost of other refurbishments on campus and parking lot expansion as well as funds to acquire neighboring properties.
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