PIGEON FORGE — A large eastern Tennessee church sold its 30-acre campus and state-of-the-art worship center to a bank rather than face foreclosure.
The Gathering — one of the bigger churches in Sevier County — relocated to a new spot after it couldn't continue making payments on the facility.
Utility workers and others outside the church Wednesday referred questions to Citizens National Bank.
Transaction reports from the Sevier County Register of Deeds indicate the 32-acre property was transferred from the Gathering to Citizens National Bank Monday.
Bank President David Verble confirmed the sale to The Mountain Press. The transfer lists the value at $9 million, but Verble said that's the estimated market value of the property.
A spokesman for the Grand Majestic Theater said the church would have its first service there Sunday. Pastor Gene Wolfenbarger's blog, linked on the church's web site, also confirmed the church is relocating.
Executive Pastor Tom Weekly said church officials decided to leave the campus where they moved in 2009 when they realized they couldn't continue making payments on the facility. The cost was estimated in 2009 at between $10 million and $12 million.
"During the economic downturn, just like many institutions, our income declined and the payments on the building didn't," he said.
CNB had worked with the church on refinancing and other options, he said, but ultimately it was decided that the best decision was to surrender the campus.
Attendance at the church has actually been up, Weekly said, and the congregation is looking forward to moving to the new location, where their church will be visible to the tourists who come to visit local attractions.
"That's like an open mission field, 60,000 cars pass there a day," he said.
Information from: The Mountain Press, http://www.themountainpress.com