PORT ST. LUCIE — Nearly 1,000 days after Digital Domain collapsed, the building that once housed the bankrupt company will find new life as a church.
The City Council Monday unanimously approved selling the former Tradition studio to Christ Fellowship, the country’s ninth-largest megachurch.
Christ Fellowship already has given the city the full purchase price of $13 million.
“You left a lot of broken promises and a lot of broken dreams out of Tradition studio,” said Councilman Ron Bowen to former Digital Domain CEO John Textor, who was present at the meeting but did not speak. Textor offered to buy the building earlier this month in an email to city officials, but didn’t specify a purchase price.
“Christ Fellowship is in a position to restore lives and give people hope and faith, so something good can come out of something bad,” Bowen said.
Terms of the deal include an inspection through July 13, and a July 17 closing. If the deal falls through, $15,000 would be nonrefundable.
“This deal is real as evidenced by a check that has already cleared,” said Mayor Greg Oravec of his confidence in the deal.
The church is headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens and has six campuses in Florida, including Stuart, and one in New York City. Officials estimate it will spend $6 to $8 million to retrofit the 115,000-square-foot former digital animation studio and add a 20,000-square-foot auditorium, possibly creating local construction jobs.
Church officials hope to start Saturday and Sunday services, along with youth and adult weekday programs out of the building by late summer.
“Our desire and our heart is to be a resource to the city,” said church representative Donald Hearing, who called the building perfect for Christ Fellowship.
Hearing added: “Christ Fellowship would work with veterans, the homeless, foster care and safe homes.”
Christ Fellowship was interested in the building 18 months ago, but was building its Boynton Beach campus and planning to start construction on its 55,000-square-foot Stuart campus, set to open in July, representatives said. Now with the Boynton Beach project completed, when a recent deal to sell the building fell through, the timing was right.
A sale to the church, with its weekly following of more than 20,000 people, will save the city $427,000 annually in maintenance. It also will reduce the city’s $66.3 million debt on the building to $53.3 million. The city makes annual interest payments of $1.4 million through 2018 and principal payments of $2.3 million through 2042 for the failed deal.
The church would pay city stormwater and Tradition assessments — approximately $133,000 annually. Because of the church’s nonprofit status, however, it would pay no property tax, costing the city about $73,000 annually. St. Lucie County and other taxing authorities would forgo approximately $245,000 in property tax annually.
The city in 2009 gave Digital Domain a $51.8 million incentive deal — which included land and the fully equipped Tradition studio — in exchange for jobs and economic development. The now-bankrupt company shuttered its doors in late 2012, laying off almost 300 employees.
Although Christ Fellowship can’t deliver on Digital Domain’s promise of hundreds of high-waged, high-skilled jobs, it plans to employ approximately 35 in Port St. Lucie, Hearing said.
The sale to Christ Fellowship comes after a $15 million sale to Jupiter businessman James Hall fell through last month. The City Council in 2013 approved a $14 million sale to Vero Beach resident Richard Friedberg, but it also fell through. Hall was present at the meeting, telling City Council he still wanted to buy.
“I was ready to go forward and I’m still ready to go forward,” Hall said.
The deal to sell the building to Hall was called off after he failed to pay the city a required $200,000 deposit.