Tampa's Without Walls Church For Sale
TAMPA Without Walls International Church, which faces a U.S. senator's scrutiny for possible abuse of its tax-exempt status, has put its Tampa sanctuary up for sale. CNL Specialty Real Estate Services and Cushman & Wakefield of Florida were hired to sell the 13.3-acre campus, near International Plaza and Raymond James Stadium, in the burgeoning West Shore business district. The asking price is $30 million, said Matthew Messier, a principal with CNL who specializes in selling church property. Along with the 4,500-seat sanctuary, the campus includes a 94,000-square-foot office building, a television studio and a small health club. Messier referred all questions to the church.Randy White, co-founder and head pastor of Without Walls, declined repeated requests for an interview. White's ex-wife, Paula, co-founder and board member, also did not return phone calls. She now spends most of her time in New York and San Antonio, where she formed a partnership with a ministry called The Epicenter - A Place for Life. The possible sale surprised one board member. "I had no clue this was on the table," said Alick Clark, a board member from Acton, Calif. "You can't make a decision like that without the board's approval. Right?" The news comes as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is intensifying his inquiry into Without Walls and the global teleminstry it spawned, Paula White Ministries. The Iowa Republican, ranking member of the Senate's finance committee, is concerned that Without Walls, Paula White Ministries and five other multimillion-dollar ministries could be using money from their tax-exempt organizations to pay for their lavish lifestyles. The other ministries are: Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church; Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries; Kenneth Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries; Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International, and Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. In November, Grassley gave the ministries about a month to answer an array of questions about finances, including reports of lavish spending on luxury cars, furniture and private jets. So far, the Whites, Dollar and Long have refused to answer the questions, risking a possible subpoena. Good Property, Soft Market Local real estate experts consider the Without Walls property to be in one of the most promising areas for development in Tampa. Most likely, the new buyer would tear down the buildings at 2511 N. Grady Ave. to build offices or some type of mixed-use development, Messier said. "The real value is the land," he said. "Of course, there's always the possibility that another church would want it." The church got a $12 million mortgage on the property in December 2003 from Evangelical Christian Credit Union. The balance is due in January, but the loan could be extended another five years, said Lisa Valenzuela, a credit union spokeswoman. She and other credit union officials wouldn't discuss the terms or balance of Without Walls' mortgage and other loans. The credit union offers only balloon payment-type mortgages, in which a church makes relatively small regular payments and then generally pays off the bulk of the loan in a lump sum. Without Walls reported a $26.29 million debt in a 2006 audit. About $9.2 million of that was used to buy a 10,000-seat church in Lakeland in 2005. Without Walls is also exploring the sale of that 75-acre property, according to Messier. Without Walls shouldn't expect a quick sale of its Tampa campus, based on today's cooling commercial real estate market, said Bill Eshenbaugh, president of Eshenbaugh Land Co. The property is next to a former MetLife Inc. administrative building being transformed into the MetWest International mixed-use development. At International Plaza, a new office building is under construction. "It's not an instant sale at that price," Eshenbaugh said. "It's a great location, but the market is taking a breather. They are a little behind the curve." The church property is zoned for office buildings, a parking lot and multifamily residential housing. It had been a Canada Dry distribution center. Without Walls leaders likely would need to drop the price dramatically if they hope for a quick sale, Eshenbaugh said. These days, large investment funds are offering about 35 percent of the asking price, he said. That means Without Walls could expect to get $10 million to $12 million if it wanted to unload the building soon. Accountability Concerns A member of Without Walls' board and at least one congregant were surprised to hear their church might be sold. "I haven't heard anything about it," said Marlena Isaac, 23, who has attended Without Walls since 2003. "This is news to me." Isaac said if the church moves, she will likely move with it. "It has nothing to do with the building," she said of the worship experience. "For that matter, I could watch the service on the Internet. "It's a good church. You get a good message every week." Clark, the board member, said he is concerned that Randy White is making major decisions without seeking board approval. According to Without Walls' 1998 articles of incorporation, White must consult with the board in managing church operations. "Whatever they're doing, they're doing on their own, apparently," Clark said. White met with Clark in California about a month ago, Clark said. The pastor never mentioned selling the property, he said. "I feel like there should be some accountability, but there doesn't seem to be any," he said. "It kind of makes this whole board thing rather immaterial, doesn't it?" According to 2007 state incorporation records, the church board is composed of the Whites, Clark, Zachary Tims of New Destiny Ministries and Norva Carrington, the church's chief financial officer. Board members Carrington and Tims did not respond to messages seeking comment. If the building sells, White could use the money to build a new church, or to enhance the church's Lakeland facility or for ministry work, said Randy Sterns, a Tampa attorney who specializes in tax law. But White couldn't personally profit from the sale, or give the money to church staff or board members, Sterns and other tax experts said. Without Walls almost had a deal to sell its Lakeland church earlier this year. A real estate agent representing Without Walls asked the Family Worship Center in Lakeland if it wanted to buy the sprawling Polk campus. Family Worship Center is looking for a larger church for its growing ministry, said business administrator Shawn Scarborough. Without Walls Central is roughly 120,000 square feet, about 30,000 square feet larger than the Family Worship Center. The ministries negotiated, but the deal fell apart about a month ago when the two sides could not agree on terms, Scarborough said. "We were very interested,'' he said, "but nothing happened." For more stories, video and forums on Without Walls, go to TBO.com, Keyword: Without Walls. The Past Year At Without Walls May 2007: The Tampa Tribune chronicles financial troubles and broken promises by Randy and Paula White, the founders of Without Walls International Church. Aug. 23, 2007: Randy and Paula White announce they are getting a divorce, ending a marriage of almost 18 years. Nov. 5, 2007: U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sends a letter to Randy and Paula White, along with five other ministries, asking detailed questions about personal finances to explore whether they violated their tax-exempt status. March 2008: Real estate agents confirm that the Without Walls campus in Tampa is for sale.