LDS Church growing in inner cities

Buildings are revamped for temples, chapels

Published: Saturday, May 1 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

The church spent more than $1 million five years ago to buy the Grant Street property, leasing one building back to the Art Institute. Another $2.5 million was invested in an 18-month renovation that entailed gutting the interior, creating a chapel and replacing the faade to appear more churchlike.

Inner-city Denver Mormons never could have afforded such a luxury alone. But in the LDS Church, individual churches aren't responsible for raising money for building projects. The church finances all construction by pooling tithes of members everywhere, with Salt Lake signing off on each project.

Such projects mark a departure for the LDS Church, which traditionally buys three to four acres and plunks down sprawling new centers.

Over the past four years, 14 inner-city LDS chapels either have been built or are planned, said Kim Farah, an LDS spokeswoman.

That's not an eye-popping number, considering the church builds 120 chapels domestically a year.

It's the locations of the projects that are garnering attention.

In Manhattan, the church is renovating a six-story building across from the Lincoln Center into a temple.

In Harlem, a stake center for several congregations and a family history center is in the works.

In Miami, a banana-yellow warehouse in Little Haiti was transformed for $3 million into a house of worship where the faithful now read from a Creole translation of the Book of Mormon.

The church's march to Eastern metro areas hasn't come without challenges. Projects in the New York suburbs and outside Boston have faced stiff opposition.

Although church officials say they see potential for growth in central Denver, they play down the new building as a tool for proselytizing.

"The Mormon Church follows its members," said Kathleen Flake, a Vanderbilt University professor who wrote a book about Mormonism and 20th-century change. "It isn't, 'build it, and then they'll come.' If they're going into the city, they have a very stable presence in the downtown area."

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