Orlando Sues Church To Take Land For $85M Soccer Stadium

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MIAMI, FL – The city of Orlando filed an eminent domain suit last Thursday to take the property belonging to the Faith Deliverance Temple, the last piece needed to complete the designated site for construction of an $85 million soccer stadium.

The suit comes about a month after Orlando City Soccer, which plans to call the stadium its home as a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, announced that it was pushing back the opening date for the 18,000-seat facility until 2016 because of delays in acquiring the needed land.

A Florida judge ruled Jan. 31 that the city could take two properties located at 639 W. Church St. and 607 W. Church St. for the stadium project, and the city council had passed a resolution Jan. 20 to move forward with eminent domain proceedings to take the church’s property at 625 W. Church St. as well, although it left the door open to further negotiations with the congregation.

The suit says that negotiations with registered agent Catherine Williams, whose husband founded the church, and her family will continue but that because of the construction schedule and the possibility that negotiations may fail or break down, the city deemed it necessary to exercise its power of eminent domain.

“We have spent the last year trying to work with the Williams family. The city was willing to pay the Williams family a fair amount — substantially more than the appraised value plus relocation costs, but the city has to balance this with our duty to safeguard the assets of the city,” the city said in a statement. “When the Williams family retreated to their original demand of over $30 million, we had no choice but to take this issue to the courts for resolution.”

The petition lists an appraised value of $695,000 for the roughly 0.44-acre property, which documents show contains a one-story concrete church building and a parking lot.

According to documents provided by the city, Faith Deliverance Temple Inc. opened negotiations with an asking price of $35 million for the property plus the purchase and renovation of a replacement property, which the city estimated would result in a total value of $40 million.

The city opened with an offer just under $1.5 million, which it eventually increased on April 9 to $4 million. The temple reduced its proposal to a package the city valued at $15 million to $20 million, but upon its rejection reverted to its original asking price at a final meeting on April 24.

Counsel for the temple did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

To exercise its eminent domain powers, the city must demonstrate a public purpose for the taking. Its petition says that the property will be used for a “mid-sized forum for sports, recreational, educational and entertainment activities,” and that it constitutes a public purpose that will benefit the public by providing jobs and increased tourism as well as improvement to the area.

A new soccer stadium was described by Phil Rawlins, owner and president of Orlando City Soccer, as the “last domino” and “the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle” for the club, which currently plays in the United Soccer League’s Professional Division, or USL Pro, to put together a winning bid to move up to the MLS, the country’s highest level of professional soccer.

MLS required at minimum an 18,000-seat grass field with covered seating areas to award Orlando an expansion franchise, which it did in November after the club secured more than $20 million in public funding from the city, Orange County and two surrounding counties, as well as a resolution from the city council to start eminent domain proceedings on the two other parcels if it could not obtain them through negotiations with the owners.

The team has pledged $30 million in cash and $10 million in guaranteed stadium revenues toward the construction, plus any overruns. The team is also paying the $70 million expansion fee to MLS.

Due to the delays in acquiring the land and starting construction on the stadium, the team said it will play the 2015 season, its first in MLS, at the renovated Florida Citrus Bowl.

The City Council in April gave its approval for a construction agreement with developer Orlando Sports Holdings LLC and the team and the city unveiled a design-build team for the project.