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Courting VCU, Landlord Boots Church Day Care


Frank Wood once rented his property at the corner of Lombardy and Broad streets to the Lord. Now he's looking for redemption — and a good lawyer.

Early this spring, Wood was approached by Virginia Commonwealth University about renting his building at 613 N. Lombardy St., which he was already renting to Children of God Victory Tabernacle. The church has held its services and operated a day-care facility out of the building for the past five years.

Wood had considered the below-market rent he'd charged the church's leader, Pastor M. Louis Lacey, an act of charity. But the offer from VCU to double his monthly take was the apple he couldn't resist.

Wood bit.

"I destroyed the church's business," says a remorseful Wood of turning his back on Victory Tabernacle in a bid to turn a bigger profit.

On March 28, Wood received a signed letter of intent from a leasing coordinator in VCU's office of business services and treasurer. The letter stated VCU would sign a five-year lease agreement for the property, paying Wood $12,000 a month. So Wood evicted the church.

By mid-May, Wood realized his deal with VCU had gone south. But salvation was also on its way out the door; Victory Tabernacle and the 52 children who'd been enrolled in the day-care program cleared out May 15. On May 31, VCU officially told Wood that it would not rent his building.

"I called the church and said you're free to come home, but their business has just been decimated," Wood says. "I had a decent tenant that was paying rent, and I ended up with an empty building."

And a haunted conscience.

"I guess I feel like I was put in a place that I would have never put myself," Wood says of the experience.

Wood says he now plans to sue the university for breaking its word. He thinks he's got documentation to show VCU reneged on a legally binding agreement.

Meanwhile Pastor Lacey casts no blame, though he says the experience certainly exposed the very human faults of both Wood and some VCU administrators.

"If a person's a businessman, I think you should be able to make money," Lacey says. "We don't blame [Wood] for trying to make more money. I still see him as a gentleman."

The church has since found temporary digs. Worship services are now at J.B. Fisher Elementary School, still in the city limits but far enough outside the city center to have drawn down attendance quite a bit.

The day care has continued, too, after a fashion. Of 52 children, only 13 remain, says the day-care director, Tanya Peterson, who now uses borrowed facilities at nearby St. John's United Church of Christ. The new facilities weren't big enough to take back all of the children, and many parents who might have stayed were forced to look elsewhere because of the uncertainty.

"I don't want to say we lost everything — but we lost a lot," Peterson says. "This is still in God's hands, so we're not defeated."

She's a bit less sympathetic toward Wood.

"He owns the building. I feel he's totally responsible," she says. "He didn't have to kick us out. To me it's just bad business — especially with a church and a day care. " S

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