August 8, 2002

Ending weeks of speculation among Manhattan Mormons, the LDS Church confirmed Wednesday it will create a temple in a six-story building across the street from New York City's Lincoln Center.

Of all the temples built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this will be only the second, after the one in Hong Kong, that is not free-standing.

The temple will occupy the top two floors of the nondescript church-owned building, which long has been used for Sunday services. There will still be a chapel on the third floor, classrooms, a cultural hall for midweek social activities and a genealogical center open to the public, said LDS spokesman Dale Bills. Design and renovation work has already begun.

For more than 11 million Latter-day Saints worldwide, including more than 62,000 in the New York area, temples are where Christ's teachings are reaffirmed through marriage, baptism and other sacred ordinances.

"I am absolutely overjoyed," said Sarah Asplund, a singer who lives in upper Manhattan. "This is an incredible blessing to be able to jump on the subway and go to the temple. It feels like Utah -- it's so close."

The new space will be "the people's temple," said Chris Carlson, a technology consultant in Brooklyn. "We like the idea of the rich people in Westchester having to come into the city to go to the temple."

The church also owns property in Harrison, N.Y., about an hour north of the city, but neighbors oppose plans for a temple there, arguing that traffic would increase and that the building would be too large for the area. The church recently agreed to many concessions, including reducing the size of the temple, but has still not been able to finalize its plans there.

The Manhattan building is on a parcel of land between 65th and 66th streets on Columbus Avenue that the church bought in 1972. It leased the property for 99 years to a developer who built a high- rise apartment building and the adjoining six-story building, which had stores on the street level.

The church has owned the floors it occupied. For years, the building's third-floor chapel was home to several LDS congregations. The upper floors once had a health club's racquet ball courts, but when that caused too much disturbance the club was forced to leave and the space remained empty.

A few years ago, the LDS Church bought the rest of the building and put in another chapel for four more wards on the fifth floor and classrooms on the sixth.

Last April, church President Gordon B. Hinckley promised those attending a New York area conference that a temple would be built nearby "within two years--but don't hold me to that timetable."

Hinckley said the church had "spent more money on real estate in New York City than on the other 63 stakes in the area combined."

The church purchased several buildings in Manhattan in recent months, including a former convent near Union Square and a second building on 87th Street between Second and Third avenues. It also owns a property in Harlem, where it plans to build a stake center for several congregations, and another one in Washington Heights, in upper Manhattan.

Last month, the Lincoln Center building's upper floors were unexpectedly shut down and eight wards began to meet in a single room on the third floor. The stores were closed, including a coffee shop where hungry Mormons often got a snack between church meetings.

Church officials urged members "not to speculate about what was happening."

Still, speculation was irresistible for many, who could not help but wonder what the space would be used for and, if it were to be a temple, how all the necessary architectural features would work.

For example, a baptistry used for the rite of baptism for the dead usually is below ground. That is true even in the Hong Kong temple, which was built specifically as a temple.

But the Manhattan building has a parking garage in the basement, which is not owned by the church, and church officials will have to figure out how to solve that problem. Other requirements also may demand creative solutions, such as how to get a separate entrance for the temple, which is open only to worthy Latter-day Saints.

Details aside, Manhattan Mormons seem thrilled by Wednesday's announce- ment.

"This move is definitely inspired," Carlson said.

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