Scientology building project in St. Paul looks stalled

There's not much activity visible these days at the downtown St. Paul building owned by the Church of Scientology.

Just a few months ago, the place was buzzing as construction crews got busy converting the former Science Museum of Minnesota into the church's new regional offices.

The church bought the building at 505 N. Wabasha St. in 2007. The structure had previously been home to the Minnesota Business Academy, a charter high school that went belly up after running into financial problems.

In April, crews put up construction fences and started filling big metal bins with construction waste. A construction permit indicated the church planned to spend $2.5 million on remodeling. The permit listed an estimated completion date of May 12.

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In the past few weeks, activity visible from the street has been minimal. The construction fences, waste bins and material chute are still in place. Several parking meters on Wabasha are hooded.

The church's construction permit remains active, but there are indications the project has stalled. For one thing, the contractor has not asked for an inspection on the construction project, according to records reviewed by Angie Wiese, the public information officer for the city's Department of Safety and Inspections. The most recent inspection was for elevator work in April, she said.

The permit will be good unless work halts for six months. Then the church would need to apply for an extension.

The church's permit for blocking the sidewalk and parking meters on a downtown street could get pulled if work is halted for a significant period.

"The permit is still good right now," said Shannon Tyree, a spokeswoman for St. Paul Public Works. "But it does sound like the contractor may just be closing this out."

Tyree suggested I call the contractor, JE Dunn Construction, for more detail. No one with the company returned my call. Ditto for the Minneapolis office of the Church of Scientology.

UPDATE 3:05 p.m. Friday: Nothing like questions from a news blogger to generate some activity. Sometime very recently the construction fence on Wabasha came down and the parking meter hoods were removed. It's unclear whether this means the project is done and awaiting inspection, or whether the Church of Scientology has put off its move from Minneapolis.

In April, crews were busy remodeling the former Minnesota Business Academy into new offices for the Church of Scientology. (MPR Photo/Tim Nelson)