One of Houston's most famous buildings up for sale

March 22, 2010 3:58:13 PM PDT
One of Houston's most famous buildings is going up for sale. First called the Summit, then the Compaq Center, it was home to the NBA championship Rockets team. It now houses the largest church congregation in the country -- Lakewood Church.

The price tag is $7.5 million for the entire Lakewood Church property, which is on seven acres of land currently owned by the city. To some, it may appear the church is getting a great deal. But the church maintains it's fair.

Just six years into a 30-year lease, Lakewood Church is poised to own the building it currently occupies and the church is excited.

"For the church, it's a wonderful thing," said Lakewood Church Spokesperson Don Iloff, Jr. "We move from renters to owners and I think that's the Houston way."

But are the taxpayers getting a good deal? Back in 2001, the city decided to lease the then Compaq Center to Lakewood Church instead of selling the property outright. Former Tax Assessor Paul Bettancourt says that was a crucial mistake.

The problem with this whole transaction has been, while it is advantage to the church, it's disadvantageous to the taxpayer, because you sign a long term lease and then now, in the middle of a recession, you do a buyout," he said.

Lakewood paid $11.9 million up front for the 30-year lease, made about $100 million worth of improvements, and is now poised to buy almost seven acres of land for $7.5 million. Bettencourt says the church is definitely getting the better end of the deal.

"We shouldn't have given this lease out in 2001," said Bettencourt. "Now taking a bad deal in 2010."

But Lakewood points out that it wasn't looking to buy. It was the city that decided to sell.

"The city obviously is facing budget issues and made it public that they wanted to raise money by selling city properties and they named Lakewood church as one of the properties," said Iloff.

It was then-Mayor Bill White, who late last year proposed the idea of selling the property. It's now on Houston City Council's agenda. If council members approve the deal, it'll take around 60 days for closing.


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