Terry Jones, the Gainesville pastor who sparked worldwide outcry over plans to burn the Koran on the Sept. 11 anniversary, is planning to move his church to the Tampa Bay area.
Wayne Sapp, associate pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, said Jones has long been disappointed with the lack of support in Gainesville for his evangelical church. Jones hopes to leave the city by the end of the year, Sapp said.
"We have actually been looking for about a year," said Sapp. "One of the reasons that we are looking at the Tampa-St. Petersburg area is the diversity that is there. Here in Gainesville, this is a very liberal area, pretty much controlled by the university. We feel like the Tampa-St. Pete area is much more metropolitan and people would be more apt to come out and find out (about the church) for themselves."
Shortly before the Sept. 11 anniversary, Jones announced plans to burn the Koran. After criticism from President Barack Obama, a plea from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and international media attention, Jones backed down. He has since said that he no longer intends to burn the Koran.
Jones, 58, was controversial before that outcry. About a year ago, members of his church planted a wooden sign stenciled with red paint on church grounds that read, "Islam is of the devil." The words became his slogan, adorning a book, T-shirts and coffee mugs.
Sapp said Jones, senior pastor at the church since 2001, has been familiar with the Tampa Bay area for years. Jones and his wife, Sylvia, have owned a small Treasure Island condo since 1991, property records show.
Sapp indicated that the church, now located on 20 acres 5 miles north of the University of Florida campus, would be much more modest if it moved to Tampa Bay. The current property is listed for sale for $2.9 million.
On Friday, Gainesville officials said security for last weekend's planned Koran burning cost about $200,000 and they expect the church to pay for it.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or [email protected]