Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Without Walls says it has settled debts and is moving to new Tampa location

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TAMPA — Hoping to emerge from bankruptcy, Without Walls International Church says it is close to selling its longtime home near Raymond James Stadium to a real estate developer.

Attorneys for Without Walls said in a document filed in federal court Friday that a sales contract with the Richman Group closes Monday. The developer plans to pay $12.6 million and build multifamily apartment units on the W Columbus Drive property, said Leah Stewart, a development associate with Richman's West Palm Beach office.

Without Walls and the Richman Group struck a similar deal last year, but the church "refused to close on that sale at the last second," according to documents filed in the bankruptcy case.

The $12.6 million exceeds the amount of loans backed by the Tampa property but is still far less than the overall $29 million that Without Walls owed its lender, California-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union, as of last month.

Attorneys for the credit union did not return phone calls Monday.

The 11-acre Tampa property includes a sanctuary, a full gymnasium and an administration building.

Church officials announced their latest plans to move to a new location at Sunday's worship services. Spokeswoman Susan Funk said leaders have not yet settled on a location, though court documents say the church has a rental agreement to use Blake High School.

In last week's filings, the church's attorneys asked the judge to let it stay at its current Tampa location until Sept. 9.

Over the years, Without Walls took out four loans — worth a total of $29 million — from the credit union, using its Tampa campus and a Lakeland church as collateral, the court documents say. But after Without Walls stopped making its payments, the credit union began foreclosure proceedings on the two properties in October 2012.

The church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. Last month, the credit union took the Lakeland property by making the top bid at a bankruptcy auction.

Funk said the church is now "debt-free." She declined to explain how the debt had been eliminated before the sale of the Tampa location has closed.

"I can only tell you that our creditors are paid, we've retired all debt and we're moving forward," she said.

The 12,000-member church was established in 1991. About 4,000 members attend one or more of its three weekly services at the Tampa site, according to the church. The church also operates an after-school day care center at the location.

Last year, Without Wall's gross revenues totaled $2.2 million, according to bankruptcy documents.

Randy White, who resigned as senior pastor in 2009 because of what he described as health concerns, returned to Without Walls in July 2012.

In the year preceding the bankruptcy filing, White received a salary of $156,000 plus benefits, the church said in court documents. White also made $800,000 in unsecured loans to the church, the March documents say.

Without Walls once boasted 22,000 members and was among the fastest-growing congregations in the United States. But half its members left after White's 2007 divorce from his wife, Paula, now a senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, near Orlando. The church also has endured tough news media scrutiny, an inquiry into its finances led by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and the ongoing foreclosure issue.

Contact Jodie Tillman at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

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