The Rev. Bryan Matthews and his wife, Rhonda, at City Centre shopping center, which Hobby Lobby is donating to New Life Christian Center.
Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett
It's a gift that leaves the Rev. Bryan Matthews and his congregation at New Life Christian Center awestruck.
"It's still hard to grasp," said Matthews. "It's a couple of million dollars worth of property. I don't think it's dawned on us."
On Dec. 22, Matthews announced to his congregation that Hobby Lobby, a retailer based in Oklahoma City, Okla., was purchasing City Centre shopping center on Wrightsboro Road and donating it to the church.
The church will have to lease the building for a year before the title is given to the congregation.
The City Centre shopping center is the former home to Circuit City, Sky City and an auto parts store. Combined, the three buildings are more than 100,000 square feet. The property is valued around $2.6 million.
The church, which has about 500 members, many of whom live in Aiken and Columbia counties, has been on Wylds Road behind Augusta Mall for nearly seven years.
Members converted a former racquetball and fitness center into a sanctuary and several classrooms. The building is about 18,000 square feet.
Over the past year, there has been a lot of growth in the children's department, with the department leaders requesting more space.
The church owns and plans to develop 30 acres on Lewiston Road in Grovetown; however, Matthews didn't feel it was time to leave the area. The shopping center is only about one mile from the Wylds Road facility.
"We were trying to buy the property next door," said Matthews.
A former mattress warehouse with about 5,000 square feet is next to the Wylds Road facility. The church and the owners of the adjacent building couldn't come to a purchase agreement.
The day before Thanksgiving, Matthews called the real estate agent who held the listing for the vacant Waccamaw building in the shopping center on the other side of the church.
Ann Davis told Matthews that someone was in the processing of purchasing that property, and she told him that she'd been contacted the previous Monday by a group that wanted to buy the Wrightsboro Road property and place a ministry in it.
"As soon as they located a ministry, they would buy the buildings," he said.
Over the next few weeks, there were several phone calls between Hobby Lobby officials and the church. Hobby Lobby closed on the property Dec. 27.
"We felt comfortable with them," said Steve Green, executive vice president of Hobby Lobby, a retail chain which sells items from arts and crafts goods to furniture and home decor.
Founded in 1972, the company has 297 stores in 26 states. A store in Aiken opened Dec. 31.
In the past five years, Hobby Lobby has given away more than $100 million in property to churches and parachurch organizations. In 2002, churches in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Abilene, Texas, were among nine that received buildings.
"We have always been mission-minded," said Green, whose father, David Green, founded the chain. "We do a lot of cash donations."
One of the reasons Hobby Lobby began giving away property was the tax breaks available to the business.
"For all ministries, finances are a challenge," Green said. "When we can get a property at a good deal, we can help out."
The church will have to do some renovations to its new facility.
Matthews plans to gut the former Circuit City building and use it for classrooms and administrative offices.
On the Sky City side, there are plans for a 1,000-seat auditorium.
It will take about six to nine months before the church can move into its new building, and Matthews estimates it will cost about $500,000 to renovate the structure.
The church plans to sell its Wylds Road facility.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.