No buyers yet for former First Family Church

No buyers yet for former First Family Church

By JUDY L. THOMAS, Kansas City Star, 1/3/12, original
The 125,000-square-foot complex once belonged to First Family Church until major debts resulted in its foreclosure in September.

For sale: A 125,000-square-foot complex on 51 acres in the heart of southern Johnson County. Seating for 1,400, full kitchen, coffee shops, basketball courts and an indoor children’s playground.

Asking price: $12.5 million.

More than three months after a bank foreclosed on First Family Church in Overland Park, the monolith sits empty at 143rd Street and U.S. 69.

Finding a buyer for a former megachurch building is no easy task.

But listing agent Craig Kelly with commercial real estate company Cassidy Turley is up for the challenge.

“There’s been some activity on it, with interest both inside the community and outside the community,” said Kelly, who added that he couldn’t disclose who’s asked about the building. “We’re certainly targeting anything to do with schools or churches. I think it will find a use that’s either similar to the prior use or has something to do with education or recreation.”

Kelly said Cassidy Turley listed the former First Family building about a month ago for Regions Bank.

The bank filed a foreclosure petition against First Family Church in Johnson County District Court in January 2011 and took the property back in September.

Kelly said the property is relatively new, with the main sanctuary built in 2000 and the children’s and middle school buildings erected in 2005 and 2006.

“They’re very impressive structures,” he said.

But because of its size and specialized use, few businesses would be a good fit.

Whitney Kerr Sr., a broker at Cassidy Turley and a longtime figure in Kansas City real estate, said the best bet would be to sell the property to another megachurch “or a smaller church that’s about to become a megachurch.”

“They could make use of all those special improvements,” he said. “Someone might be able to make a wonderful buy.”

The property may be unusual, Kerr said, but it’s also in a growing area.

“That’s where a lot of these large churches seem to be locating, so I’m sure there will be somebody who will be interested in it,” he said. “But it’ll be a challenging listing.”

Evelyn Mitchell, a Regions Bank spokeswoman, said she could not comment on any specifics regarding the search for a buyer.

“We are actively marketing this property for sale,” Mitchell said.

In court documents, however, the bank acknowledged the obstacles it faces.

“The value of the property is significantly impacted by the fact that it is a unique property designed to function as a church, in a depressed economy, and Regions (or any prospective buyer) may have to hold the property for several years and pay the costs associated therewith, before any return of its investment may be realized,” bank officials said in an Oct. 26 court filing. Another high-profile church that suffered financial difficulties was recently sold in southern California. The Crystal Cathedral, the architectural glassmonument made famous by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his “Hour of Power” program, was purchased for $57.5 million in November by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange after a bankruptcy judge approved the transaction. The diocese plans to consecrate it as a Catholic cathedral. Regions Bank filed the foreclosure petition against First Family Church earlier this year, saying it owed more than $14 million in mortgage and other costs.

A judge ordered the foreclosure in September and the church, founded by the Rev. Jerry Johnston, held its final service Sept. 11. The church then re-launched a week later at Olathe East High School under the name New Day Church Kansas City.

The church owed $14.7 million on the property, and Regions Bank bought it back in a sheriff’s sale for $8.85 million in October.

Meanwhile, Johnston’s new church continues to meet on Sundays at Olathe East under a different board of directors.

Jerry Johnston and his wife, Christie, also have relocated. They sold their house in southern Johnson County in October. The sale price was undisclosed, but the property was originally listed earlier in the year for $899,000 and dropped to $775,000 in September. The 2011 appraised value is $487,600.

The Johnstons had a “downsizing moving sale” in late October. An ad on Craig’s List said items for sale included furniture, TVs, dishes, vases, a commercial grade treadmill and “containers full of the most beautiful Christmas stuff.”

Johnston did not respond to a request for comment.