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Growing church to make bottling plant its home

What is now a Canada Dry bottling plant soon will go from dispensing tonic water to holy water, thanks to the South Tampa Christian Center's plans to convert the building into a mega-church.

On Thursday night, the City Council voted unanimously to give the church zoning approval to make the 138,000-square-foot plant on W Columbus Drive its permanent home.

The non-denominational church now brings its multiracial, multiethnic congregation to worship under a red-and-white tent nearby. Its new sanctuary will have about 2 acres of enclosed space _ enough for 5,000 worshipers. Plans call for 2,000 seats on the church floor and 3,000 more in a balcony.

The 7.9-acre Canada Dry property is at the southeast corner of Columbus and N Grady Avenue. It is immediately north of the church's existing 6-acre home, where its offices and tent now stand.

The new site also has room for a 712-space parking lot, but the church plans eventually to build a 1,700-space parking garage.

Just 5 years old, the South Tampa Christian Center has grown from a tiny storefront to a church with 4,000 members and a four-story administrative building. It is, senior pastor Randy White said Friday, the second-fastest-growing church in the nation.

Along with its services, attended by folks ranging from the homeless to millionaires, the church also has more than 160 outreach ministries. It runs a state-certified vocational and technical center, a medical center, a teen club and anti-drug programs. It also provides food, clothing, school supplies and other necessities to the needy and has a foundation set up by Tampa Bay Buccaneers players.

The church is scheduled to close on the property April 15, and renovations are to start the next day. White said it will take four to six months to make the conversion, adding stained glass, padded pews and steeples.

The cost of the project is $6-million. White said the church has raised about half the money and expects to raise the rest during the next year or two.