FORT MILL -- A Steele Creek church has bought the former Charlotte Hornets training center to house a second campus as it looks to expand its ministry into York County.
LifePointe Christian Church closed on the building Thursday, lead pastor Matt McGue said.
"I think the venue has a lot of opportunity to reach and touch the community," he said of the 68,100-square-foot building next to Knights Stadium on Deerfield Road. "It's really our vision as a church expanding down into Fort Mill, Rock Hill."
The building, built in 1994, was used for practice by the Hornets until the team left for New Orleans in 2002. Later, it was used briefly by the expansion Charlotte Bobcats but has been vacant in recent years as the team sought a buyer. LifePointe had been interested in the building for about a year, McGue said.
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The church has a few hundred members, McGue said, about a third of whom live in York County. "That's why we've had such an interest in expanding down in that direction," he said.
Fort Mill's Tammy Gaston, 36, has been a member of the church for four years, making the 30-minute drive every Sunday to the current location at Southwest Middle School in Charlotte.
"That's a commitment to make on a Sunday morning when you're trying to get your family up and moving," she said. "Having a church closer to home ... I think that's exciting."
Gaston said she's excited that the new location will make it easier to invite friends and neighbors who might be turned off by a long drive into Charlotte. She sees strong potential for the church to become an active contributor to the community.
"We want people to be able to come there seven days a week to worship and play and just live life," she said.
McGue said that fits perfectly with the church's vision for the building.
"We were looking for a facility that would actually be used as a community center and not just a church," he said.
The church plans to starting using the building for services March 22, McGue said.
McGue declined to say how much the church paid for the building. The property is valued at more than $4.3 million, but Bobcats owner Bob Johnson bought it at auction in 2003 for $2.6 million.
The training center was built as part of a deal between York County and Charlotte businessman George Shinn, co-owner of the Hornets and former owner of the Charlotte Knights baseball team.
In the late 1980s, Shinn agreed to build a 10,000-seat stadium for the minor league Knights team in Fort Mill and to develop the surrounding 320 acres of pasture into a thriving business park.
In return, the county agreed to pay for roads, parking and utilities.
The public-private partnership also required Shinn to build a 4,000- to 5,000-seat training center for the Hornets, but he later tried to back out of the deal. After he unsuccessfully bargained with the York County Council to contribute to other county projects instead, he built the training center next to Knights Stadium in 1994.
The business park never developed.
Because of the property's location, just off Interstate 77 and about three miles from the North Carolina line, county leaders view it as prime real estate. Various ideas for the property have been proposed through the years, including a corporate retreat or education center. But none ever came to fruition.
"It's been largely a question of pie-in-the-sky speculation more than anything else," county manager Jim Baker said.
Some county leaders previously said they'd prefer the property to stay on the tax books rather than go to a nonprofit organization. But Baker said Friday the county isn't disappointed that a church will occupy the site, and that leaders wish LifePointe luck in the building.
"You can't get hung up on those types of things," Baker said of losing tax revenue. "It may have supported a very high-end corporate center, but a church can be just as valuable to the community."
The Bobcats also are happy with the sale, said president and chief operating officer Fred Whitfield.
"We're pleased to be able to sell that facility to a church, which can probably make a very positive usage out of the building," he said. "We're just happy that an organization like that came in and saw the value in the building."