School's funding falls short in bid to buy Dove World property

Luke Jones, son of pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center, is seen in this Aug. 7, 2011, file photo.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun/File
Published: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 10:45 p.m.

A Christian school aiming to purchase the Dove World Outreach Center property in northwest Gainesville came up $300,000 short of its fundraising goal, but school officials aren't giving up hope that they will be able to buy the land for their new campus.

Evan Pitts, vice president of Cornerstone Academy's board of directors, said the school raised more than $200,000 — half of that in cash, the other half in pledges — but needed half a million dollars to put down on the roughly $1.1 million purchase.

Without enough money for the first payment, Cornerstone's contract with Dove World expired earlier this month, sending both entities back to the drawing board.

“I think the sellers are looking at this as the most viable option at the moment, barring someone else coming in,” Pitts said.

Cornerstone, which has an enrollment of about 250 students, currently is renting 17,000 square feet of space on Northwest 34th Street and is looking for a permanent campus that would allow the school to grow.

Dove World, a church with no more than 30 members, has sparked local, national and international outrage and attracted worldwide media attention for its anti-Islam and anti-gay events in the last few years, including a planned Quran burning on Sept. 11, 2010.

After the burning was called off, pastor Terry Jones said the church would relocate to the Tampa area if the church sold the property, which has been on the market for several years. However, his son, Luke Jones, told The Sun in August the destination shifted to Fort Myers in Southwest Florida.

On Monday, Pitts said he was told a buyer was interested in the 20-acre pasture south of the church, which Cornerstone also was hoping to buy.

Still, he said, the school would want to buy the 20-acre parcel where the sanctuary is located, even if the other half of the property sells.

“It's definitely going to change our initial plan,” he said, adding that he was “cautiously optimistic about the whole deal.”

Neither Dove World staff nor the real estate agent for the property returned messages left on Monday seeking comments.

Pitts said some people in the community assumed the sale was a done deal and didn't realize the school was in the process of raising money.

“We're definitely going to find a permanent spot,” he said. “That may or may not be the Dove property. If we had the funds we felt comfortable with, we'd go close on the property tomorrow.”

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