Facing auction, church throws a Hail Mary

The Richmond Christian Center filed Tuesday for Chapter 11. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

The Richmond Christian Center filed Tuesday for Chapter 11. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

A last-minute bankruptcy filing saved a Southside house of worship from the auction block, just as local developers eye for the property.

The Richmond Christian Center filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday to stave off foreclosure on the church’s 77,000-square-foot building at 214 Cowardin Ave. near the Manchester neighborhood. Ronald Page, an attorney representing the Christian Center, said the organization is exploring options to restructure the building’s financing or sell the property.

Read the bankruptcy filing.

Click to read the bankruptcy filing.

The church building is available for sale or lease along with several other RCC-owned parcels, including nearby parking lots, two buildings at 318 W. 19th St. and a few Manchester area single-family homes. The portfolio has a listing price of $5 million.

Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer’s John Myers and Isaac DeRegibus are handling the listing, although both said the bankruptcy makes the brokerage’s future involvement with the property uncertain.

“The initial plan was to do some short-term leasing with the plan to ultimately sell,” DeRegibus said. “There are a lot of people within the community that are highly invested in the property – people that are members of the church that are very anxious to see what’s going to happen, and there are also some developers in the area that see it as a depreciating asset and an opportunity for development.”

An auction scheduled for Wednesday morning would have sold off the entire 2.3-acre city block bounded by Cowardin Avenue and Perry, Wall and West 19th streets.

Foundation Capital Resources, a Mississippi-based lender and REIT that specializes in financing for churches, moved to foreclose on the property after the RCC defaulted on a $4.4 million loan issued in September 2005. Page said the RCC owes slightly less than $2 million.

The RCC’s Chapter 11 filing lists between $1 million and $10 in assets and liabilities in the same range. The church is operating at the Cowardin Street building. Pastor Stephen Parson did not return a phone call by press time.

Foundation Capital Resources is the only creditor listed in the initial bankruptcy filing. Paul Campsen, a Norfolk-based attorney serving as a substitute trustee for Foundation Capital Resources, could not be reached for comment.

DeRegibus said the property has drawn interest from a variety of potential buyers, including developers and church and community groups. The property could be sold to a developer interested in the land only, but DeRegibus said the best use would take advantage of what’s already in place.

“It’s got a gym, it’s got a day care, it’s got office space, it’s got a large auditorium, a banquet hall and an auto shop,” he said. “All of these components are marketable in their parts, and it could be sold as a whole.”

The property is zoned for general business. The building as is would lend itself to few uses, DeRegibus said.

“As it is now, it could be used for a mega-church, or it could be used for a school,” he said. “If there was a conversion, you’re not too far from VCU, so you could potentially have apartment development there. It has amenities in place, and some developers in the area are circling.”

Tom Papa, a principal with Fountainhead Properties, which has developed several properties in Manchester, said the RCC space would be well suited for continued use as a gathering space such as a community center, school or church.

But Papa didn’t rule out potential retail development for the site.

“Probably the highest and best use would be a grocery store at this point, because there’s not any near there,” he said. “It would help the neighborhood quite a bit.”

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