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Brazilian Church Hoping to Purchase 1.5-Acre Downtown Lot for $12.5 Million

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, June 14, 2011, at 08:05AM
915 S. Hill Street Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is under contract with Meruelo Maddux to purchase this 1.5-acre parking lot at 915 S. Hill for $12.5 million, but only if a bankruptcy judge approves.

One of the world's largest—and most controversial—Pentecostal churches, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has operated a branch Downtown for more than a decade, first in the Million Dollar Theater and then more recently at 7th and Broadway in the State Theater.

Despite that, the church operates below the radar of most in the neighborhood.

That could change if Universal Church is able to go through with plans to purchase a major piece of South Park land for $12.5 million.

The site at 915 S. Hill is owed by Meruelo Maddux, at one point Downtown's largest landowner. The company has been navigating bankruptcy proceedings since September of 2009. It has since sold off a number of assets, including the 35-story Watermarke Tower for $110 million in 2010 and the 1907 rail depot that houses architecture school SCI-Arc.

Universal Church was founded in 1977 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Today it operates in more than 170 countries.

Throughout, the church and its founder, Bishop Edir Macedo, have been a source of controversy. A 2009 investigation in Brazil accused the church of siphoning off billions in offerings to buy jewelry, property and cars. Macedo was imprisoned for 11 days in 1992 before tax evasion charges were dropped. Multiple governments have investigated the church's operations.

Still, that has done little to hamper the organization's growth or its appetite for big projects. In 2010, the church received approval to build a $200-million replica of Solomon's Temple in São Paulo. The structure, now under construction, will seat more than 10,000.

Locally, the Spanish-language Iglesia Universal opened services in 1993, meeting inside the Million Dollar Theatre at 3rd and Broadway. It moved to the 2,500-seat State Theatre at 7th and Broadway later in the decade.

It remains to be seen what the church would build if it is able to acquire the 1.5-acre site at Olympic and Hill. Standing in its way is the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where lawyers on all sides of the Meruelo Maddux case will head on June 23. The company is seeking permission to sell $92.8 million in property, including Union Lofts at 8th and Hill. That property would go to Franklin Properties, LLC for $28 million.

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