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Windermere Development Company Inc. of Springfield has purchased 941 acres of land next to Windermere Baptist Conference Center.

The purchase from National City Bank of Cincinnati was part of a loan restructuring plan for the conference center's latest expansion, Wilderness Creek.

Conference center officials sold the acreage to National City Bank on Nov. 15 under the new loan's terms to reduce the center's debt from $21 million to $14 million. The development company bought the land on Feb. 24.

William R. Jester, owner of Resource Development Inc. (RDI) in Springfield, started and owns Windermere Development Co.  (RDI Consulting in Jefferson City is not affiliated with the Springfield firm as some news sources have indicated. Former Missouri Baptist Convention executive director Jim Hill purchased the consulting firm from Jester four years ago and currently operates it as president and chief executive officer, with no legal or financial ties to the development company.)

Although Windermere Development Co. is not connected to the conference center, the firm's intention to develop the area fits into the center's long-range plan.

“This transaction allows the continuation of the general theme of the Windermere master plan,”¯ center acting executive administrator Dan Bench said in a written statement released on March 8.

According to Bench, Jester has been interested in the center's ministry for some time and has assured administrators that he wants any development to complement existing programs and plans.

“When meeting with the center's board of trustees following the purchase”¦, Mr. Jester reiterated his desire to coordinate with the conference center to enhance its ministry, as well as the entire area,”¯ Bench said.

According to center officials, Windermere's Wilderness Creek expansion is the initial phase of the ministry's master plan.

Financial difficulties surfaced when a funding plan for Wilderness Creek fell through in 2002, after construction already had begun. Center officials broke the project into phases, securing financing for the first phase in August 2003.

The delay hampered projected facility use — and projected budgets — in 2003 and 2004. Administrators sought to restructure the debt and cut ministry expenses.

On Nov. 15, they completed the loan restructuring process, which included selling the 941 acres to the bank.

According to Bench, Jester's development plan for the property includes townhouses, villas, condominiums, private residences and commercial areas. Construction of a retirement facility also is being considered. Jester could not be reached for comment by press time.

To ensure his plan coordinates with the center's ministries, Jester requested and trustees named a committee to act as liaison between the center and the development firm, Bench said.

“The plan continues the vision and long-range thinking of Windermere's advisory board as far back as 1991 and of the board of trustees since 2001,”¯ Bench said.

According to Word&Way accounts at the time, Windermere advisors approved an enlarged master plan at a fall meeting in 1992, and messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention approved it in November.

The adopted $10.5 million master plan included expanding programs, increasing staff, developing a promotion and communication plan, upgrading existing building and exploring the possibilities of building additional facilities.

Some $3.5 million of the total was earmarked for a convention center and lodging.

Bench said securing the restructuring plan and adopting its first-ever balanced budget will improve the center's financial footing.

“God continues to bless Windermere with an approved balanced budget and a very substantial increase in our ministry based on already contracted groups [to use Windermere this year],”¯ he said. “The growing awareness of the improved and enlarged facilities is a contributing factor in Windermere's increasing Christian ministry.”¯ (03-17-06)

 
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