Church school could buy Dove World property

The Gainesville Sun/August 15, 2011

Dove World Outreach Center, the 30-member Gainesville church that has received international condemnation for its anti-Islam events, has a buyer interested in its property and says it will move to Fort Myers if the deal goes through.

Cornerstone Academy, a 250-student Christian school on Northwest 34th Street, is negotiating to buy the 20-acre Dove World property for $1.1 million, nearly a quarter of the $4 million asking price when it went on the market in 2009.

Evan Pitts, the vice president of the school's board of directors, said Cornerstone is out of room at its current location and is hoping eventually to move the entire campus to the current Dove World property, at 5805 NW 37th St., as well as the 20-acre pasture to the south.

“We have no room to grow,” Pitts said, noting that the school has been scouting property in Gainesville for years.

Cornerstone is beginning a fundraising campaign to pay $500,000 toward the purchase this fall and $3 million for needed renovations, he said.

Cornerstone already has filed an application with the city for a special-use permit, which is required to run a school at the property, and the City Plan Board, a resident panel, will have the final say on the matter, city spokesman Bob Woods said.

Luke Jones, a pastor at Dove World and the son of the church's senior pastor, Terry Jones, said Monday he hopes the deal will be done by the end of the year.

“We'd leave tomorrow,” the younger Jones said. “There's of course a lot of paperwork and a lot of permits.”

Dove World Outreach Center was founded in the 1980s and remained relatively quiet until 2009, when it posted signs on the front of the property proclaiming “Islam is of the devil.”

Members' children later went to school with the slogan printed on white T-shirts.

Last year, Terry Jones gained national — and then international — attention when he announced plans to hold a Quran burning on Sept. 11, the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Scores of reporters and photographers came to Gainesville in anticipation of the event, which eventually was called off after pleas from officials in Washington.

In March, though, an associate pastor did burn a copy of the Quran after a mock trial in which a “jury” found the Islamic holy book “guilty.”

While the event was largely ignored by media outlets, the church posted a video of the burning on YouTube, and the wire service Agence France-Presse released a story about the event, which sparked outrage in Afghanistan.

At least 20 people were killed in rioting, including seven United Nations workers, who were killed by a mob that stormed a U.N. compound.

If the sale happens, Pitts said Cornerstone will face a challenge in overcoming the church's reputation.

“When we're talking about children, that's a risk,” he said, pointing to an incident earlier this month when two people set a Bible on fire on the church's driveway.

The school would use a different address and would remove all mentions of Dove World.

Patrick Sucher, a real estate agent and the president of the Mile Run East Master Association Inc., the homeowners association for the Rosemont and Vista Palms neighborhoods, said he welcomes the sale and is making a point to tell neighbors that Cornerstone, though a Christian school, has nothing to do with Dove World.

“Obviously, no one wants a school that teaches children to do what they do,” Sucher said.

Sucher said that compared with some alternatives — the property staying in the church's hands or being developed as a new residential area — the school is ideal, as it could raise property values.

And with the church gone, it might be easier to sell homes in the area.

“I've had people tell me I don't want to be around anything like (Dove World),” Sucher said.

After the Quran burning was called off last year, Terry Jones established an organization called Stand Up America to further protest Islam as well as same-sex marriage and abortion.

At that time, he said he intended to move to the Tampa area.

But Luke Jones said Monday the plan is to move to Fort Myers, where there are many available properties in the wake of the collapse of the housing market.

He said his father plans to establish a new church there, under a different name, and continue the work of Stand Up America.

He added that the area — including such cities as Sarasota and Naples — is home to a large population of potential church members.

“We don't feel that Gainesville is really open to what we are doing,” he said, “so we feel like we want to relocate and see how it goes there.”

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