The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has increased its bid to $55.4 million for the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral, pitting it against Chapman University in the quest to buy the iconic Garden Grove campus.
A bankruptcy judge now will decide who will take over the Orange County landmark, founded by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller. Last week, Chapman University upped its bid to $51.5 million and was named the preferred buyer; the offer includes an option that would allow the Crystal Cathedral to lease and buy back core buildings.
But on Wednesday in a Santa Ana courtroom, Marc Winthrop, the Crystal Cathedral's bankruptcy attorney, told Judge Robert Kwan that the church board finds either buyer acceptable.
"It makes it harder for the court because now I have to decide," Kwan said. A hearing is scheduled for Monday.
The Crystal Cathedral ministry said it was more than $50 million in debt when it filed for bankruptcy in October 2010.
The diocese, which is seeking to build its own cathedral, has actively pursued the property, raising its offer several times — the latest by $1.8 million.
Unlike Chapman's plan, though, the diocese would not allow the ministry to repurchase its core buildings — such as the main cathedral — but would help it find a new place of worship, possibly at St. Callistus, a 1,200-seat church in Garden Grove. Neither plan would affect the cathedral's cemetery.
Alan Martin, an attorney for the diocese, said the church's offer is the best option. "It appears right now that they need a smaller space," he said of the Crystal Cathedral ministry.
Schuller and his wife, Arvella, were not present at the hearing. Chapman's president, James L. Doti, was in attendance but did not speak.
Several congregants attended the hearing in support of the Chapman proposal.
Mike Nason, a longtime congregant, said that the Crystal Cathedral is the face of the ministry locally and globally through television's "Hour of Power."
"I would like to see it continue," he said.
Bob Canfield, a congregant who also helped organize an online petition to change the church's leadership, said he thinks Chapman will be the buyer.
"It is the best for the church," he said.
Winthrop, however, told the judge, "Regardless of which of the two bidders are successful…the ministry will continue."