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Pastor's Plans for Church Complex Built on Faith : Development: The $23-million multifaceted project would dwarf Orange County's Crystal Cathedral in sanctuary seating capacity.

June 20, 1993|EMILY ADAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COMPTON — When Pastor Reuben Anderson looks at the architect's model of his proposed church complex, he sometimes thinks he is gazing upon a tiny miracle.

The plans for the new Tower of Faith Evangelistic Church are ambitious. If completed as planned, the 14-acre, $23-million complex will have a sanctuary larger than Orange County's Crystal Cathedral, a full gymnasium and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

The miracle, he said, was getting city approval for the project. It took two years of negotiations, meetings with city staff and a pitched political battle.

But recently, Anderson and Tower of Faith received the sign they were looking for: The City Council overturned Planning Commission denial of the project, prompting cheers and cries of "Hallelujah!" from congregation members at the meeting.

"We had been praying around the clock for this decision," Anderson said. "And let me tell you, when this is completed, Compton will be changed forever."

Tower of Faith bought the Compton Drive-in Theater site at Rosecrans and Pannes avenues two years ago. The church plans to build the complex there, including a bookstore, private school, gymnasium, football field and large hall, all surrounding a three-story prayer tower.

The tower would include a glass elevator, waterfall and a round room at the top where up to 100 people could hold 24-hour prayer vigils. Anderson describes the tower as the emotional and spiritual center of his 2,600-member, primarily black church.

Tower of Faith's school, attached to the current church on Rosecrans just outside city limits, would expand from 150 to 1,200 students and include a high school for the first time. The entire complex is scheduled for completion by 2000.

Over the past two years, the congregation raised millions of dollars toward construction, church officials said. But city planners were far from ready to approve the project.

The drive-in site, in a redevelopment project area, was set aside in the city's General Plan for 141 homes. Housing raises tax revenue; churches are tax exempt.

Anderson assured planners that about 75% of the complex would be taxable, and a large bookstore would generate sales tax.

When planning commissioners mentioned the $51,000 in tax revenue the city would lose if a church--instead of housing-- were built, Anderson quickly agreed to pay the city $51,000 a year. As a condition of city approval, the Tower of Faith also agreed to build 141 houses in Compton.

But the Planning Commission denied the project, along with another proposed church in the Walnut Industrial Park, saying they did not comply with the city's written plan.

The other proposed church, Richard Escobedo Ministries, appealed to the City Council but was turned down again.

Some said the council's decision was racially based because Escobedo's church has a mostly Latino congregation. But council members insist their vote was purely economic. The city, they said, needs the tax revenue of manufacturing businesses in the industrial park.

Meanwhile, Anderson held political forums in his packed church during the recent primary and runoff elections. Every candidate was asked if he would approve the church project; each had just 30 seconds to answer. Church members had tally sheets to record each candidate's opinion. Every candidate except Fred Cressel, who lost his bid for the council, pledged support.

"I know it will take more than one project to turn around a city with our problems," said Mayor Omar Bradley, who joined the 3-1 vote for the Tower of Faith. "But if they can contribute to the upswing, I welcome it."

Only Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins voted against the project, saying that she wanted to see revenue-generating businesses or housing on the site and that the project's seven-year timeline was too long.

Despite the opposition, Anderson said his church would radically change the city's fortunes.

Only about 25% of the congregation lives in Compton, Anderson said. Those decent, economically stable churchgoers will return to the city, he said, where they will spend their money.

And looking to the enormous, expensive church in their midst, Compton residents will feel pride, he said. It is no accident the sanctuary, with 3,250 seats, would be larger than the 2,000-seat Crystal Cathedral.

"I want the people to see that God is not prejudiced," Anderson said. "In Orange County, in white communities, they see beautiful facilities. Here they see storefront churches. I want them to see this and know it is ours."

Now that plans have been approved, perhaps the biggest challenge lies ahead: Raising the money for construction, plus buying land and building the 141 houses.

The church complex would be built in five phases. Tower of Faith must complete a percentage of the houses at each stage of the project, but details have not been worked out, city planners said.

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