SEBRING - Although four bidders showed up at the Restoration Center auction last week, only one bid was received.
"And that wasn't even close," said auctioneer Randy Kincaid of Lakeland. "Our goal was to get the mortgage paid."
Kincaid would not reveal the mortgage amount or the one bid, but it did not meet the opening bid of $1.5 million. Although there was no reserve price, the seller retained the right to reject highest bid.
So, said Kincaid, a specialist in auction liquidations and distressed properties, the mega-church at Sparta Road and State Road 66 remains on the real estate market.
"We haven't established the asking price at the moment," Kincaid said. "We are looking for offers."
In April 2009, at the county's request, Sheriff Susan Benton investigated the possibility of buying the church for use as the new sheriff's office. Instead, she chose to move 50 deputies into an office building at Liberty Star Plaza.
In June 2010, Pastor Arlan Sapp told Highlands County commissioners that the 32,000-square-foot church was appraised in 2005 for $7.5 million, but parishioners weren't ready to sell.
He asked whether the county would consider paying $4.25 million for the auditorium and 42.5 acres of land.
In 2012, he met with the commission again with a $2 million price tag.
In the meantime, Kincaid said, Restoration Center parishioners are still holding church services there.
One of the registered bidders was a church; three were local, and one was from Broward County.
"And we've had some inquiries since the auction that are promising," Kincaid said. Some of the bidders couldn't bid because they planned to use the church building in ways that weren't approved under the current zoning. One, for instance, wanted to conduct seminars and weekend retreats. Another wanted to build extra housing. The facility can be used for a pastor's residence, and it could be used for weddings, he said.
Restoration Church of the Highlands was first used on Mother's Day, 2001, and it still boasts the county's largest auditorium. While the county was still growing, the inter-denominational church's built a 1,000-seat auditorium. Then the economy turned downwards.
The congregation, which once had 550 members, became too big for 120 members. Upkeep of the building became too expensive, and the property fell into foreclosure.
After four-and-a-half years of being on the market, the Restoration Center went to auction.
"We have always believed the people are the church, not the buildings, and we have had no desire to impress anyone with our property. Our plans have always been to build large enough to meet the needs of our growing church household and always be able to make our facility available to the public whenever possible," Sapp said in an email last month.
The building has meeting rooms, classrooms, a commercial kitchen and a state-of-the-art video-recording system and auditorium lighting system, Kincaid said. All the furniture, fixtures and equipment stay with the building. A video tour on the Kincaid Auction Co. web site touts other uses: corporate headquarters, government offices, civic center, medical, assisted living, or nursing care facility