The East County Observer reviews the top stories of 2013.
EAST COUNTY — The Rev. Randy Bezet didn’t know he could dream this big.
But, more than 11 years after launching Bayside Community Church, his vision is getting bigger — again.
Bezet, Bayside’s senior pastor, told his three-campus, 5,300-person congregation of the church’s plan for a roughly $16.5 million expansion at Bayside’s East County campus during services Nov. 3 and Nov. 4.
Construction began in early November.
Contractor Willis Smith hopes to complete the 70,000-square-foot facility, located slightly northwest of the existing building, by Dec. 1, 2014 — just in time for Bayside to hold its Christmas services there.
“We have outgrown the space we are currently in,” Bezet said. “(We aren’t expanding) because I like to hear myself talk; it’s to create space for people. There are no more options for us at this campus.”
Bayside may have started as a 20-member church in March 2002, but when it moved from its home at Freedom Elementary School in mid-2010 to its East Bradenton campus, it went from holding five services each weekend at the school to holding three services each weekend in its new 1,000-seat auditorium. Since that time, however, it has twice expanded, opening locations in Sarasota, east of Interstate 75 off Fruitville Road, in September 2012, and in West Bradenton, in February 2011. The East Bradenton campus has about 3,700 attendees who attend five services, while the East Sarasota and West Bradenton campuses have 775 and 850 attendees, respectively, each over three services.
“We can’t do more services,” Bezet said. “We’ve launched other campuses to try to impact more people where they wouldn’t drive (so far) to Bayside and also to give us relief at the current location.”
But, he said, those changes haven’t been enough to keep up with the growth.
Bezet said Bayside’s team has been working on plans for the new facility for about a year and decided to move forward now with the project because of the need and because a business person offered, unsolicited, to match up to $8 million, so the church can complete the building debt-free.
Once finished, the new building will include a 2,500-seat auditorium, as well as 10 classrooms for the church’s preschool program. A large lagoon-themed children’s play area will include a ship and other whimsical playground equipment similar to what’s offered at places such as Disney World and Busch Gardens.
“We’ve always tried to better our community, but I really see the facility we are building to be used for the community and by the community,” he said, noting the auditorium space could be used for graduation ceremonies and other occasions.
The addition also will include an outdoor area that will be able to accommodate about 800 people.
“It will be a huge lawn, so we can have outdoor concerts, baptisms and movie nights, where we project the movie onto the side of the building,” Bezet said, noting Bayside is relocating several large oak trees to the site, so the venue will have ample shade during the day. “It’s going to be a great area we will be able to use most of the year.”
Once the expansion opens, Bayside will move its youth program, which meets Sunday nights, to its former 1,000-seat auditorium space. The current youth area, which seats about 200 people, will be converted into a multi-purpose room that can be used for luncheons, ceremonies and other events.
Bezet said he is humbled and excited about the changes that are happening, but he also is eager to see Bayside continue to impact the community through its Adopt-a-Block and other ministry programs.
“I sit back and I think about what’s going on and I’m blown away,” Bezet said. “I know who I am and I know my own frailties and short comings, and it’s in spite of those things that God is doing what he is doing. I am completely humbled and totally amazed.”
“Nothing about Bayside has changed since day one 11 years ago,” he says. “Bayside has always been about people. That’s all that we are about — people and connecting people with God and helping people become healthy and whole.”
For information on Bayside Community Church, visit baysidecommunity.org.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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