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Disputed church building auctioned for $10.5 million. Where will the congregation go?

The Imani Baptist Church property on Georgetown Road was sold at auction for $10.5 million to its lender, Central Bank, on Oct. 16, 2017.
The Imani Baptist Church property on Georgetown Road was sold at auction for $10.5 million to its lender, Central Bank, on Oct. 16, 2017. palcala@herald-leader.com

Imani Baptist Church and Family Life Center was sold for $10.5 million to its lender, Central Bank, at a Fayette Master Commissioner’s sale on Monday.

Willis Polk, the pastor at Imani, said that he is leaving the building, which had been home to his church since 2008: “I choose to vacate immediately,” he said after the auction.

Imani started in 1997 with 210 members who met at House of God International on Georgetown Street. The church had between 600-900 members by late 2016.

It was unclear Monday where the church would resettle after vacating the Georgetown Road building.

The building was appraised for $12 million for the master commissioner’s sale and includes 22.42 acres of land with extensive parking, exercise and aerobics rooms and a cafe. Central Bank made the sole bid at the Monday auction.

More than 100 church members attended the auction and said they would continue to be Imani members, no matter where the church relocates.

Members of the group said that the building was just a structure, and that they carried the church within themselves.

“We are the church,” said Imani member Earline Burton.

Imani and Central Bank had been at odds legally for several years, with Imani insisting that it had been the victim of a poorly structured deal. Central Bank had said in court filings that it was trying to put an end to its effort to help the church work through the financial issues that put it in default.

Imani and Central Bank had been ordered earlier this year to mediate, with master commissioner James Frazier acting as the receiver.

Circuit court records noted that an agreed judgment was filed Aug. 25 but was sealed.

In September, Brad Hawkins, an attorney for Imani’s family life center, said Imani officials were still seeking a way to settle the dispute. The Imani property includes two parts, the church and the Family Life Center. The hope had been to lease property in the Family Life Center to businesses in order to help pay the mortgage.

Steve Kelly, an executive vice president at Central Bank, said that the future of the building has not yet been determined: “I’m not able to comment on that at this point. ... Hopefully as we work through this process there will be a resolution.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman

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