http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_19185470 COMMENTS OPEN. Video at ling. Once upon a time, a science fiction author invented his own religion. Inspired by his studies in Eastern spirituality, engineering and nuclear physics, L. Ron Hubbard's controversial theories on psychology, reincarnation, extraterrestrials and the mental blocks holding most people from achieving greatness quickly spread, and the Church of Scientology grew to become the only major new religion established in the 20th century. It's still growing. On Saturday, the church opened its latest mega-center - or "Ideal Organization" - at the corner of Wabasha and Exchange streets in downtown St. Paul, adjacent to the Fitzgerald Theater. The three-level, 82,000-square-foot building occupies the old west building of the Science Museum of Minnesota and encompasses dozens of classrooms, seminar rooms, video rooms, a coffee shop, two saunas, a bookstore and 300-seat IMAX theater, which is now a chapel, conference center and concert hall. The building, which opened in 1979, most recently housed a charter school, the Minnesota Business Academy, which closed in 2006. Erin Banks, a spokeswoman with the Church of Scientology International, said the "dinosaur-sized" site is the 25th fully outfitted new "Ideal Org" the church has opened worldwide in the past five years, and the largest Scientology center in the Midwest. Others opened this year in Tampa, Fla.; Moscow; and Melbourne, Australia; and another 60 mega-sites are on the drawing board around the globe. multimedia displays throughout the building show some 500 different videos documenting the church's religious outreach, anti-drug abuse and humanitarian work, and a second-floor "purification center" offers treadmills and saunas for new members to release body toxins purportedly hindering their self-realization. The displays in the lobby, or public information center, are free and open to the public on a walk-in basis seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Friday, and from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The new site employs 150 uniformed staffers, all of them Scientologists, and replaces the church's former Twin Cities headquarters on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, which closed last fall in preparation for the move across the river. The 505 Wabasha St. location is about five times larger, a testament to the religion's growing popularity, organizers said. Hundreds of church members attended Saturday's opening. There are an estimated 10,000 Scientologists in the five-state area served by the church. "Scientology has expanded more in the past five years than it has in the past 15 or more," said Nancy Schumacher, a local spokeswoman for the church. The grand opening also drew some well-wishers from the political field, most of them happy to see such a large, long-vacant downtown space fully occupied. Among those well-wishers were St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune, state Sen. Sandra Pappas, state Rep. Rena Moran and V.J. Smith, president of the Minneapolis Chapter of MAD DADS, which hands out the church's "Truth about Drugs" anti-drug abuse pamphlets. Moran praised the church's commitment to volunteerism, and Pappas spoke of its commitment to human rights work around the globe. City permits list the conversion from school and museum building to mega-church at $2.5 million, though church officials once estimated the actual pricetag at closer to $7 million. The church bought the site in 2007 but construction was delayed during the recession. The Dianetics and Scientology Bookstore is inside the new Church of Scientology, Twin Cities. The church's new site employs 150 uniformed staff, all of them Scientologists. (Courtesy to Pioneer Press: Church of Scientology) The building will be tax-exempt, although the church still will pay the city's street assessment fees to cover street cleaning, snowplowing and other routine work downtown.