Church Finance – Part IV
When I concluded part III of the Church Finance series I fully believed that it was complete. Well, not complete, but finished as far as I was concerned. I had dug up as much information, and tried to tie as many loose ends together as I thought I could. And, frankly, I wasn’t even interested in looking into too many details of the seedy side of church finance. I was semi-determined to move on to other topics, if not take a break for awhile. As Justin mentioned in his comment in Part III, this isn’t uplifting material and certainly weighs on the mind, mine included. It’s rarely pretty digging up some of this information, even though it may be “out and about” and readily findable. I concur. And, yet I thought I had moved on from it.
In fact, I had even toyed with closing this thing altogether, not because of what I was writing on, or its effects on me, but because I thought my time was finished in the “blog” world. In beginning this blog I mentioned how I had set out to do a “one year” commitment, though far from set on that 365-day timetable. I’m not a full-time blogger by any stretch. I’m even embarrassed to mention that I have a “blog.” (Pride issue, methinks.) And yet, in pondering these topics and what I wanted to do with my time prior to some of the coming changes we’re about to see, I thought it might be best to shut up shop, leave it “live” so anyone/everyone could read, continue to comment and hopefully find something worthwhile in their personal searching. In fact, just this morning I started writing the “conclusion.” Some people can carry on for years writing these things and on their blogs, maintaining a “following” and keeping their blogs alive. I’m not one of those people. I don’t particularly have an interest in continuing something like this for years on end, though I do maintain it as a way to fulfill my feelings prior to the clock rolling over into 2010.
And yet, as I started writing the “conclusion” I stopped, if only because I didn’t want to do it the way I was doing it. Then, today, I decided to sit down and listen to an interview and see if my earlier impressions on something I discussed in Part III of the Church Finance series were right or wrong, or perhaps inadequate. And, based on what I listened to, I’d have to give a hearty assessment of it being entirely inadequate.
I found the mp3 interview thanks to a search term someone had used to find my blog. In the backroom of the site, I can see what people enter in some search engine in order to find my site. Occasionally I’ll replicate those terms to see if I can find something interesting to read. This particular day, two people entered the following search term: “Paul Drockton Monson Oct 2010.” Performing that search in a site – like Google – produces a result (the top result) that takes you to the Morningliberty.com website and a link therein to an interview with the very Paul Drockton I sarcastically thanked in my last article, thanked for utterly blowing me off. In fact, I found his website to not only be entirely too noisy (ads, bold font and crazy color schemes that just look like they were thrown up by a high schooler with no internet experience whatsoever. I find it difficult to meander such sites as they’re so clogged with information that has nothing to do with the site, or are too overcrowded to make even the simplest searches annoying. But, I digress.). As such, I didn’t really give too much thought to his site, or his information (though the latter was largely due to information that couldn’t be verified anywhere else).
And yet, it turns out that his blowing me off (and his insanely annoying website) may have been the best thing for me as it provided me with an opportunity to find an interesting connection that I may have otherwise overlooked. Prior to getting to that connection, I’d encourage everyone to at least listen to Drockton’s interview. It’s 2 hours in length, but I feel it’s a good way to get to know someone and see/hear for yourself what they’re saying and whether they are someone worth listening to. Part 2 is likely more useful, though you will miss out on some of the background behind how Drockton came to this stage of life. If I may assert, I find it’s much easier to dismiss someone (like me) who only writes something, somewhere on some topic. Getting to listen to some interview with that same person, though, gives everyone a chance to listen to a voice, a frequency and see if your impressions of digital ink match up with the actual voice. And, I must say, listening to Drockton was well worth the 2 hours. He came off a likeable, normal person who’s been through some small measure of hell for what he felt like he should expose.
Now, that being said, I found a couple of interesting comparisons on Drockton’s website that I thought I’d peruse here, if only for a couple of paragraphs. I took a total of 6 buildings or developments to compare to the City Creek project that is currently being developed by the LDS church in downtown Salt Lake City. The following represents those comparisons:
Building 1: Taipai 101, Taipai, Taiwan
· Built in 2004
· 101 floors tall (1,667 feet)
· Total Cost: $1.8 billion, or $405/square foot
· Total Square Feet: 4,440,100
· Interesting tidbit: The tower’s design specifications are based on the number ‘8’, a lucky number in traditional Chinese culture. The design and planning of the tower was carried out by a Feng Shui master. The elevators in the building are the fastest in the world, rising at 1008 metres per minute (60.48 km/hour) and descending at 610 m/min (36.6 km/hour). The Taiwan Stock exchange is housed in this building
Building 2: Petronas Twin Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
· Built in 1998
· 88 floors tall (1,483 feet)
· Total square feet: 4,252,000
· Total Cost: $1.6 billion, or $376/square foot
· Interesting tidbit: The towers are the world’s tallest twin buildings. Completed in 1998, they are connected on the 41st and 42nd floors by a sky bridge, which was designed as a safety corridor. The skybridge constructed by Kukdong Engineering & Construction between the two towers is the highest 2-story bridge in the world. Petronas Towers, designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, has a beautiful blend of Islamic art, design and architecture.
Building 3: Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower) – Chicago, Illinois
· Built in 1974
· 1,451 feet tall
· Total Cost: $150 million ($645.3 million in 2009 dollars, or $142/square foot)
· Total Square Feet: 4,560,000
Building 4: Burj Khalifa – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
· Built in 2009. Officially opened on 4 January 2010.
· 2,717 feet tall (tallest manmade building ever built)
· Total Cost: $1.5 billion, or $450/square foot
· Total Square Feet: 3,331,100
· Interesting tidbits: holds the current world records for (a) tallest skyscraper, (b) tallest structure ever built, (c) building with the most floors, (d) world’s fastest elevator, (e) highest outdoor observation deck – 124th floor, (f) world’s highest mosque – 158th floor, and (g) world’s highest swimming pool – 76th floor. The Burj Khalifa is also home to a $217 million fountain that is illuminated by some 6,600 lights and 50 colored projectors.
Building (Development, really) 5: Mohammed Bin Zayed City Development – Dubai, United Arab Emirates 
· Built in 2012 (estimated). Construction started in 2009.
· Project will consist of 349 residential towers, all between 12 and 22 stories tall.
· Project will included public, commercial, retail and recreational facilities
· Total Residential Units: 50,000 (to house approximately 85,000 people.)
· Project will include infrastructure, landscaping and community amenities
· Project will cover approximately 5,000,000 square meters (53.8 million square feet).
· Total Cost: $7.1 billion, or $132/square foot
Building (Development, really) 6: City Center – Las Vegas, Nevada
· Opened in 2009.
· Total size: 76 acres (1,560,500 square meters, or 16,797,000 square feet)
· Total cost: $11 billion, or $655 per square foot.
· Features a Tram with a 2,100 foot elevated track which can handle 3,266 passengers per hour in each direction, a 6,900 car parking garage, approximately 5,000 hotel rooms and 2,400 condominium units. All of the buildings are LEED certified “Gold.”
Building 7: Atlantis – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Opened in 2008
- Total cost: $1.5 billion ($750k per hotel room)
- Total size: 2,000 hotel rooms + 20,000 sq. ft. of retail space. Approx. 114 acres in size.
- Two towers: one 18 story tower and one 28 story tower
Building (Development, really) 8: City Creek Center – Salt Lake City, Utah
· Total size: 20 acres – 2.5 city blocks (81,000 square meters) .
· Total residential units: 700 (to house approximately 1,200 people, or 1.4% of the total size of the Bin Zayed project).
· Total retail space: 2,274,000 square feet
· Total (estimated) cost: $6.0 billion (or 84.5% of the total cost of the Bin Zayed project). ~$,3000 per square foot (it’s rather hard to pin this number down, it seems. Taubman lists the overall office space at 1.4 million square feet, while the Church lists it at 1.6 million square feet. On top of that the total residential square feet has been virtually impossible to locate. So, let’s assume it’s around $3,000/ft. Even if we’re overly conservative this figure would be well north of $2,000/ft…figures that are hard to find anywhere).
As the comparison shows – at least to my mind – is that City Creek Center (in Salt Lake) isn’t quite up to snuff with the other developments. I understand that certain economies of scale come into play in developing real estate (perhaps better known as the “works of men”), but even so, would you rather have the Burj Khalifa sitting in downtown Salt Lake City, or perhaps City Center (Las Vegas’ – by comparison – huge development), or perhaps the Petronas’ Twin Towers? Sure, they’d be out of place for the most part, but by seer architectural standards, you sure do get a lot more bang for your buck. The most expensive of the comparison properties was built at $655 per square foot, whereas the “towers” were all built at $450 per square foot or less. City Creek Center, by contrast, was/is being built at ~$3,000 per square foot, or nearly 5x more expensive than the next nearest comparable property, and that’s assuming that the City Creek Center utilizes every square foot of the approximately 20-acre development site.
If you compare it with the Mohammed Bin Zayed project, they are getting nearly 350 towers, all between 12 and 22 stories tall. Think about that for a minute. An entire city for nearly the same price that Salt Lake City is getting City Creek Center. As far as “bang for the buck,” it’s hard to ignore building an entire city versus a two and a half city blocks. The City Creek Center is only 1.6% of the total size of the Bin Zayed project and offers only 1.4% of the total housing units, and yet costs nearly 84.5% as much as the Bin Zayed project. Perhaps that should be highlighted: City Creek Center is producing nearly 49,000 fewer housing units and yet has the price tag that’s nearly as much as the Bin Zayed project. The Burj Khalifa will offer some 3,000,000 square feet of interior space, while City Center will merely offer 674,000 square feet.
For the price, assuming a final price tag of $6 billion for the City Creek Center, Salt Lake could be home to no fewer than four Burj Khalifa’s, or four Petronas’ Twin Towers, or four Atlantis the Palm hotels cordoning off downtown, or … . Imagine four of those structures gracing the Salt Lake City skyline, as opposed to the rather pedestrian development it now seems to be.
Yes, we’re talking about billions of dollars, but there is simply no comparison. The Church is either getting bilked out of its “sacred” tithing “investment funds,” or the publicized scope of work is far greater than is being published, or some serious funds are changing hands under the table. This is the idea that Drockton’s work clued me in on. Some are even alleging that the Church is either facilitating a money laundering scheme, someone(s) are getting some serious kickbacks or lining of their pockets, or perhaps worse. Or, perhaps there’s some huge underground structure being built “hidden in plain sight.” Whatever it may be, what’s plain to see is that the numbers and the currently published (and available) information simply don’t match up.
In one of the first (if not the first) news conferences where H. David Burton announced the City Creek Center he stated that the church had “sought advice from some of the best minds in the country” as a way to create the best development they could. Either those minds weren’t very good (i.e., is this the best our minds can produce), or those minds were merely inflating the cost of the budget through some exorbitant fees, or those minds were the ones crafting the financing of the project and had ulterior motives.
What’s worse – the incredible lack of creativity and ingenuity when given a $6 billion budget, or the money laundering that has to underpin a project of this size when the sources and uses simply don’t match up?
I declare a draw.
What say you?
 See: http://www.keoic.com/projects/master/zayed/pdf/RFS-9275-SPU.pdf for more details. Retrieved 10/25/2010.
 See: http://www.estatesdubai.com/2009/04/mohammed-bin-zayed-city-residential.html for more information. Retrieved 10/25/2010.
 See: http://www.downtownrising.com/index.php/city-creek-introduction for more information. Retrieved 10/25/2010.
 Drockton, Paul. http://www.moneyteachers.org/Obama+Feds+Look+Into+Mormon+Construction+Project.html. Retrieved 10/25/2010.
 P.S. My apologies to Drockton for my rather terse comments in the previous post. I have not yet reached out to him again, but have found some measure of satisfaction listening to his Morning Liberty interview, as well as a few other articles on his **still** overly crowded website.