Google and the Church 'Demolition'

Is Google really demolishing a church to make room for its Council Bluffs data center? There's much more to the story than that.

Rich Miller

March 5, 2008

2 Min Read
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Please be sure to see the update at the end of the story - Rich.

InformationWeek has published a slide show of construction on Google's new data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The photos, which are originally a local newspaper, include a picture of an adjacent Presbyterian church that will eventually be demolished, along with the former Council Bluffs Drive-In movie theater. This photo prompted an item at the Green Data Center Blog, headlined "Google Demolishes Presbyterian Church, do no evil?"

I noticed this as well, and did some checking. The full story: The Gethsemane Presbyterian Church property was sold to the Council Bluffs Industrial Foundation for more than $1.2 million in January 2007, according to local media reports. The foundation was assembling land to attract a major industrial project, which turned out to be Google. Both the drive-in and church properties were owned by JMAK LLC, an entity operated by Council Bluffs developer John Jerkovich. The church was given 18 months to find an alternate site. Since it hasn't been demolished as yet and the first building is up, it's posssible the demolition work may be part of the second part of a phased build-out.

The notion of Google demolishing a church to make way for a data center makes for a spicy headline, and may be seized upon by some who are skeptical of the company's "do no evil" motto. The church actually sold the property to the local economic development corporation - all before Google was in the picture.

UPDATE: A comment from Jim Reader, with a link showing to a warranty deed stating the church was sold directly to the Industrial Foundation for $1, made it clear that some of the facts published in the local media were inaccurate. We contacted Mark Norman from the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, who has provided a clarification.

"The Gethsemane Church property was purchased directly from the church by the Council Bluffs Industrial Foundation for the $1,235,000," Norman writes. "While the warranty deed does indeed state a $1 conveyance, the actual sale price can be calculated by the real estate transfer tax stamped on the deed which shows a tax of $2,055.20 paid. The amount paid was dramatically above what would be considered fair market value for the building and property and will allow the church to construct a totally new building in an area where they will be able to grow their congregation. They are very excited about the future possibilities for their new location.

"The purchase of the church by the Industrial Foundation may have occurred even without the Google project as the Foundation was looking to expand the Manawa Business Park in any case," Norman added.

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