Without Walls to buy its campus

By Bill Coats, Times Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2008

TAMPA - Without Walls Central church is poised to buy its 11,000-seat sanctuary in Lakeland - and its independence - from its Tampa-based parent, Without Walls International Church.

Scott Thomas, senior pastor of the Lakeland church, announced Sunday that his congregation was the unnamed buyer described last week by Bishop Randy White, Thomas' counterpart at Without Walls International. Thomas said Without Walls Central is conducting "due diligence," the standard period of study and verification between the time the parties agree to a sale and the day they close on it.

Thomas didn't mention a price. But last week, White said the 74-acre Lakeland campus had been appraised at $27-million. Without Walls bought it in 2005 for $15-million.

"Pastor Randy actually began encouraging us ... in this plan toward autonomy more than three years now," Thomas said in a statement released Sunday.

Both the Lakeland and Tampa church campuses are listed for sale, at $30-million apiece. But each pastor said his church is financially healthy.

White said the marketing is an effort to extract cash from rising real estate values and apply the proceeds to ministries.

He said a sale of the Lakeland property also would allow Without Walls International to pay off its $12-million mortgage in Tampa and stay there. White told his Tampa congregation Thursday night that Without Walls had been offered as much as $26-million for its 13-acre campus on N Grady Avenue, in a booming commercial area between Raymond James Stadium and International Plaza mall.

Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.