A nonprofit religious group has big plans to give a sharply different look to long-vacant retail space in Chattanooga.
The Lee Highway site, where another group had planned a Dave & Busters-type restaurant and entertainment complex, now will offer church services and become a training center for religious activities.
The Chattanooga-based International Congress of Churches and Ministers has bought nearly 50,000 square feet of the former shopping center and started turning it into its new home.
"We wanted a venue where everybody can come together and learn," said Michael Chitwood, the entity's chief executive.
Including the land cost, about $4.5 million will be plowed into the ICCM space, he said.
Plans are for the ICCM "celebration center" to bring in people nationally and internationally for training.
Chitwood said he'd been eyeing the former Circuit City store space for ICCM, but a business had bought it in 2011 for the Dave & Busters-type entity, and Chitwood thought he'd lost the site.
However, he said he understands the restaurant and entertainment complex project didn't work out at that location, and he finally was able to buy the property.
"We lost it and got it back" the ICCM CEO said.
Tim McClure, the Chattanooga businessman behind the restaurant and entertainment complex, said Wednesday that he's looking for a new location.
When ICCM's headquarters is finished in late summer, it will take up about a third of the former shopping center that at one time held a Sam's Club, an America's Thrift Store and even a training center for football players.
Currently, Cornerstone Bank has an operations center in the facility near Highway 153.
Chitwood, who also operates a certified public accounting firm called Chitwood and Chitwood PC that does a lot of business with churches and ministries nationwide, said the site will hold two sanctuaries -- one for 983 people and the other for 785.
The second sanctuary will feature a 30-foot-wide screen coupled with two 16-foot-wide screens alongside the larger one, he said.
Chitwood said the sanctuaries won't be used to hold a single church, but services will be held regularly so people can train in a church setting.
Also, there will be both a TV studio where ministries can produce DVDs, and a radio station from which ICCM can broadcast, he said.
ICCM, which has a Pentecostal focus, will hold 10 classrooms where people can learn such subjects as delivering a sermon, healing, fasting and prayer, Chitwood said.
Additionally, there will be financial classes to help ministries and preachers, he said. Chitwood noted that a big problem is ministers not filing tax returns or not paying taxes on revenue.
"We did 20,000 ministers' taxes last year," he said.
Kammy Chitwood, his daughter-in-law and ICCM's operations director, said another class is slated to be on how to start a ministry, and the location will undertake community outreach helping the homeless and people who are in prison.
"We're one mile from the airport," she said.
The ICCM CEO said the group is not a church.
"We're not in competition with them,' he said.
The first ICCM meeting inside the facility is scheduled for Aug. 20, Chitwood said. The following day, ICCM will hold its general assembly, he said.