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Church pulls out of financial nosedive

TAMPA — Four months ago, the future of Without Walls seemed in peril because of financial troubles, but this week the church rebounded from foreclosure proceedings.

Church leaders signed a new loan with its California lender Monday, senior pastor Randy White said.

"I'm very, very delighted," White said. "It was a great victory for our church and for our people that we don't have that pressure under us like we did have before."

The California-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union filed foreclosure proceedings against Without Walls in November after it said the church defaulted on a $1 million loan. White disputed that claim, saying the church was always current on its payments.

The pastor said talks broke down in the fall over loan modification agreements presented by the credit union that included provisions forbidding the church from filing for bankruptcy. Without Walls leaders also would have been required to relinquish ownership of the church's intellectual property.

Without Walls officials refused to accept the loan modifications and soon found themselves facing foreclosure.

The credit union, which holds the mortgages on the church's Grady Avenue property and on its Lakeland branch, called in loans on both sites. Without Walls has four loans, and owes $13 million on its Tampa property and $12.5 million on the Lakeland site, church officials have said.

In November, White accused the credit union of unfair lending practices and surmised that the company was moving to foreclose because it wanted to sell the church's property for a profit. Credit union officials denied that claim, saying they were not interested in real estate sales and had negotiated fairly with Without Walls for months before taking legal action.

Now, White said he was likely wrong about the credit union's motives because the credit union did not approach a developer who was trying to buy Without Walls' Tampa property.

Officials at the credit union could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Under the terms of the new agreement, White said, the church would retain the rights to its intellectual property, which includes books and recordings.

The deal also converts the loan payments on the church's Tampa property to interest-only loans. For those loans, the church would pay about $59,000 a month, the church's chief financial officer Debbie Pullen said. Monthly mortgage payments on the Lakeland property will remain at nearly $70,000 a month. Full payment on the loans on both sites come due in July 2010.

White said the new deal gives the church time to prepare to refinance or to sell some of its assets, including its Grady Avenue headquarters. White said he continues to entertain offers for the site, most recently from medical professionals.

If the property were sold, the Tampa congregation would either merge with its sister church in Lakeland or build a new sanctuary in Tampa debt free, White said.

For the battle-scarred pastor, who has in the last two years seen church attendance drop rapidly, gone through a divorce with his wife and lost one of his daughters to brain cancer, the new loans represent another chance.

"It's very exciting," he said. "Lord knows our church has been through a lot in 18 months. … It kind of gives everybody a sigh of relief. We can now focus on what we're called to do."

Sherri Day can be reached at sday@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Church pulls out of financial nosedive 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 11:48pm]
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