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A Prominent Church Decides its Not Financially Feasible to Own and Operate the Lancaster Inn, in Lancaster, Ohio;
Drops Plans to Transform it into a Conference Center and Resort with an Attached Water Park
By Mary Beth Lane, The Columbus Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 20, 2008 - LANCASTER, Ohio -- Fairfield Christian Church plans to close the Lancaster Inn two years after buying the hotel because it's not financially feasible to operate it, interim lead Pastor Tom Alexander said yesterday.

The hotel is scheduled to close Sept. 30, and the church has put the property up for sale. The hotel at 1858 N. Memorial Drive, the local stretch of Business Rt. 33, is known as the weekly gathering place for the local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.

In 2006, the locally prominent and influential church of about 2,000 members, led at the time by the Rev. Russell Johnson, bought the hotel for $1.9 million with a plan to transform it into a conference center and resort with an attached water park.

The property is valued at $1.6 million, Fairfield County Deputy Auditor Ed Laramee said yesterday.

Church leaders decided in the past week to sell the hotel. "It's time," Alexander said. "It just did not work out financially. We lost money on it."

He declined to specify the total the church lost, but he said it was "not astronomical."

The Lancaster church borrowed $3.5 million in 2006 and about $2 million in 2007 to finance projects that included the hotel and the construction of a second church campus near the village of Baltimore in northern Fairfield County, mortgage records filed with the county recorder show.

The hotel business proved rough going. After the church's purchase in 2006, the hotel showed losses of more than $757,000, and a plan to remodel was delayed.

The hotel, the church and its school, Fairfield Christian Academy, showed a total operating loss of nearly $1.5 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007, according to a financial statement distributed to church members who had questioned the deficits.

Johnson left his position as senior pastor last year.

The church and school are doing well financially, Alexander said.

Was it a mistake for the church to buy the hotel? "It was a good idea," Alexander said. "Sometimes you try something. It became something that didn't work out for us."

Memorial Drive, the city's main commercial thoroughfare, has drawn new retail and service businesses in recent years, and a buyer could use the property for another hotel and a restaurant, or for a shopping center, said Mayor David S. Smith.

The mayor said he is optimistic: "Developers keep coming around. This certainly would be very good property."

mlane@dispatch.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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