LOS ANGELES — Chapman University, a private university in Orange County, Calif., best known for its film, business, and law schools, wants to increase its health science offerings.
It may do so in landmark fashion, if it is the winning bidder for the 30-acre Crystal Cathedral grounds, now home to the evangelical ministry that uses the cathedral for its Hour of Power, the longest-running North American church service broadcast. That ministry has fallen on hard times, landing in bankruptcy court.
Chapman, which has 6,000 students, just issued $100 million of bonds to fund a building program that will expand its film and theater program.
If U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kwan selects Chapman’s $50 million bid over the $53.6 million bid offered by the Catholic Diocese of Orange Grove on Nov. 14, it could be issuing bonds in a few years for money to convert the ministries’ seven office buildings into classroom space and labs, university officials said.
Chapman president James Doti envisions adding a pharmaceutical school, a medical school focused on osteopathy, or a veterinarian school, said university spokeswoman Mary Pratt.
The university will not have to issue bonds to purchase the church grounds, because it has enough money in its reserve fund, she said.
Chapman and the local Catholic Diocese are the top bidders for the church properties, but Chapman officials might have a leg up on their competition if creditors demonstrate any sympathy toward the Schuller family, who founded the 56-year-old Protestant ministry.
“We are the only bidder who would lease or sale the cathedral back to the Crystal Cathedral Ministries,” Pratt said. The university would use the grounds and other buildings on it to expand.
On Oct. 31, just over a year after the ministry filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the creditors committee will vote on whether to sell the ministry’s property and select the preferred buyer.
If Chapman is able to acquire the campus with its 329,000 square feet of office buildings, it would increase the 80-acre college campus by one-third, Pratt said.
Sharing space with the Crystal Cathedral Ministries would not create any philosophical issues for the 125-year-old university either, as Chapman was founded by Disciples of Christ, a progressive Protestant denomination, Pratt said. The Crystal Cathedral Ministry is also Protestant.
Though Chapman no longer has a religious requirement for the students who attend, it has its own interfaith chapel, which means it does not need the cathedral itself, Pratt said.
Church officials have contended in news releases over the past year that they would be able to raise money through a Miracle Fund to pay down debt through donations from congregants. John Charles, the ministry’s spokesman, did not return phone calls regarding the amount of money the church has raised.
The creditors committee filed a lawsuit on Sept. 30 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana against members of the ministry’s founding Schuller family and other church leaders asking that the Schullers be paid last after the sale of the property, according to court documents.
The suit claims the family siphoned off $10 million from the church’s endowment fund from 2002 to 2007.
The church owes $50 million to creditors, including a $30 million mortgage on three properties, including the Crystal Cathedral, according to court documents. The church brought in revenues of $78 million over the past three years, but posted losses of $13 million, documents state.
Robert Schuller, who retains a non-voting position on the ministry’s board, founded the ministry in 1955, preaching from the tar-papered roof of the Orange Drive-In Theater’s snack bar, according to the ministry’s website.
As his congregation increased, he moved to a more permanent home, and after it expanded to 10,000 members, Pritzker Prize-winning modernist architect Philip Johnson was hired to design the 128-foot tall Crystal Theater that seats more than 5,000 people. It opened on Sept. 14, 1980.
Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of the church’s founder, became senior pastor and chief executive of Crystal Cathedral Ministries on July 11, 2010.