An investigation by Truth & Transparency into the landholdings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly referred to as the Mormon Church or LDS Church—has shed light on how expansive and diverse their real estate portfolio is. While the church has never been listed among the largest private landowners in the US, this newly compiled data places them in the top five in terms of acreage and likely number one in terms of market value.
Truth & Transparency’s investigation reveals that, in July 2020, the LDS Church owned 1,754,633 acres across the country with a minimum market value of $15.7 billion. 15,963 parcels across the country have been linked to the Church through public records. Roughly 50 percent of the parcels consist of agricultural zoning. The other half is primarily made up of commercial or religious zoning.
While initially looking into a handful of properties known to be owned by the Utah-based church, a common data point was discovered: a single address that was associated with each property, regardless of the legal entity that owned it. Working under the hypothesis that this single address could be the key to mapping all—or at least a large portion—of the church’s landholdings, Truth & Transparency tapped into a database compiled by Reonomy. A New York City-based technology company, Reonomy is considered a “leading provider of [commercial real estate] insights, empowering top brokerages, financial institutions, and commercial services providers with actionable data and solutions”. Using this common data point, Truth & Transparency uncovered the parcels mentioned above through Reonomy.
In order to obtain the highest level of confidence in the integrity of the data, Truth & Transparency manually verified every property with a market value of at least $20 million and another 1,000 randomly selected samples from the remaining population.
Reonomy’s records do not include properties zoned for single family residences nor do they claim the data is completely comprehensive. For example, the Chicago LDS temple in Glenview, IL does not show up in the query. It is unclear what would preclude properties that share the same common data point to not be included in the query. Furthermore, it is possible that there are other properties in the US that are owned by the church that are not associated with the common address. Thus, the properties found should be considered the Mormon Church’s minimum landholdings in July 2020.
Over the years, there has been some reporting on large portions of the Church’s landholdings. For example, in 2013 Reuters reported that the Mormon Church was set to become the largest private landowner in Florida. In 2017 the Dallas Morning News reported on a commercial property that the Church purchased for $100 million. However, Truth & Transparency is unaware of any attempt to compile all LDS real estate assets across the US before now.
When the data is populated into an interactive map, the largess of the church’s real estate empire can be jarring.
The interactive map and its accompanying data—publicly searchable here— will prove to be useful tools to those looking to further our reporting. Additionally, the information adds to the growing library of investigative reports that have shed light and knowledge on the church’s assets, something they have tried to keep as quiet as possible over the years according to The Wall Street Journal.
A representative from the LDS Church did not respond to our request for comment before the publication of this article.
A few caveats to remember when reviewing the map and data:
- This data is based on county records as of July 21, 2020. There are properties purchased in early 2020 and after this date that are not present in the data. For absent properties purchased prior to July 21, 2020, it is likely due to the county records not yet reflecting the change in ownership. An example of this would be the 15,000 acre Texas ranch the Church purchased in early 2020.
- Any properties owned by the LDS Church with “Single Family Residence” zoning designation would be in addition to the properties in this dataset. There are a few properties on the list that would fit the traditional description of “Single Family Residence'', but they are not zoned as such.
- The "Asset Category" designation reflects what the official county records show. Not all counties are perfect in keeping those designations up to date. Some properties may have asset designations that do not accurately reflect their intended or actual use.
- Reonomy cannot guarantee that it captures every property. This means that there are properties (other than single family residences) owned by the LDS Church that don’t show up in the dataset. An example of this would be the Chicago temple. We were unable to determine what caused some properties to not show up in our query results.
- The numbers labeled “Total Assessed Value” and “Total Market Value” are reported by each county. Counties across the country use different methods when calculating these numbers. Furthermore, 2,291 properties have no value assigned to them by their county. These values should be considered a baseline when trying to evaluate the total value of these properties.
- These properties were able to be aggregated due to the common address we discovered that they all share. It is possible that there are properties owned by the LDS church that do not share this address.
Update, April 5, 2022 1:30 pm PST: The original data included an office building in Provo, Utah with a market value of $76 million. This building is next to the church’s City Center temple. When building the temple, the owner of this building, Nu Skin, donated a small portion of the property—0.2 acres—to the church in the form of an easement in order to accommodate construction. For unknown reasons, this caused the entire property to show up in the Reonomy query as being owned by the LDS church. We discovered this discrepancy early on in our investigation, but the property was inadvertently included in the final database and interactive map we published. It has been removed.