GROVE - Church and state intertwined in recent days for the sake of economic development as a minister called parishioners to pray over a $3.9 million land deal with the City of Grove.
“It is important that you hear the words ‘explore the possibilities.' There are a lot of things that would have to fall into place before anything tangible could happen. However, I want you, our Cornerstone family, to receive this information directly from me, not hearsay,” Pastor Bill Lay wrote in a June 6 letter to the congregation of Cornerstone Church.
Coffee shop rumors regarding the Blue Ribbon Committee was all the offer amounted to, Grove councilman Larry Parham said, until a constituent delivered a copy of the pastor's letter to the councilman last week.
Parham said he hoped to learn more about alleged offers being made by representatives of the Blue Ribbon Committee when that group, along with the council and Grove Industrial Development Authority, meet in a previously planned joint session Monday.
“The Blue Ribbon Committee was not designed to go around making offers on property,” Parham said. “That committee's job was to explore options and return to the council with the findings.”
On separate occasions last year, during Blue Ribbon Committee meetings, former city manager William “Bill” Galletly and Chairperson Connie Brewer both openly discussed the possibility of the city acquiring a parcel of land owned by Cornerstone Church.
Those talks centered around selling the Grove Civic Center for between $3.2 million and $3.5 million, applying the funds toward purchasing the church property that had enough room to build aquatic and/or civic centers, as well as having offices available for a city sports and recreation department.
However, when the Blue Ribbon Committee took developer Craig Paine into executive session on Feb. 5, minutes obtained by the News-Record of that meeting indicate that he was only willing to pay $2.2 million for the current civic center.
Paine said the civic center would be re-developed to include a grocery store, retail outlets and a discount gas station, but he'd need tax increment financing (TIF) to make the project work, according to the minutes.
The TIF needed was $1.5 million, with payments of $135,000 per year for 20 years at a rate of interest of 6.5 percent, Paine proposed.
Lay's June 6 letter explained that, on more than one occasion, he'd been approached about the possibility of selling the property located on 13th Street adjacent to the Grove Sports Complex.
“Up to this time, we had not considered any of those offers,” Lay said. “However, recently a representative of a committee from the City of Grove approached us concerning the possibility of selling.”
Lay went on to write that, after some discussion with the city representatives, the Cornerstone Church Board of Elders and Trustees decided to explore the possibility of selling the property for $3.9 million.
The church debt is just under $500,000, Lay wrote.
Should the church sell, according to Lay, the plan would be to provide an interim place of worship until another building could be constructed. “In all probability, we would be able to continue in our present location through the transition period,” Lay wrote.
Next, the church would need to secure land and build, Lay said, hopefully within a year of the final sale.
“For those members who may be saddened to sell a church they've invested tears and sweat equity to build,” Lay said, “people make up a church - not brick, mortar or steel.”
Lay told the congregation that, if the property sold, the church could end up debt-free with a new building that had room for expansion to meet the needs of more people in a more “personal, powerful and positive way.
“Pray! Pray! Pray! What we really want is God's perfect will,” Lay wrote.