The preacher from Gainesville who ignited a firestorm of criticism over his plan to torch 200 copies of the Quran says he wants to move his church to the Tampa Bay area by the end of the year, NBC affiliate WFLA reported.
He's also facing a $200,000 bill for policing costs during the firestorm his plan created, The Gainesville Sun newspaper said. However, officials say they're not sure they can force him to pay.
"A fresh start is a good term," Terry Jones said. "There's a more favorable atmosphere for the church and our message in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area."
A site for a future church here has not been selected, but the Tampa Bay area is at the top of the list for relocation, he told WFLA.
Jones, 58, owns a condominium on Treasure Island, according to Pinellas County property records, WFLA reported.
Jones said the move could happen as soon as he can sell his current church, Dove World Outreach Center. The property, a prefab warehouse turned into a sanctuary and an adjoining building, has been for sale for some time, he said.
Ramzy Kilic, communications director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told WFLA that if Jones does move to the Tampa Bay area, he hopes the preacher will show tolerance.
"If he ever chooses to come here with open arms and good intentions, the interfaith community would receive him," Kilic said. "If you want to be a member of the Tampa community, you should exemplify neighborly qualities. Tampa is a great city and he's more than welcome."
Before he goes, though, Gainesville authorities say they want him to cover the cost of policing the Dove World Outreach Center for the planned Quran burning that never happened, The Gainesville Sun reported.
The cost is expected to come to about $100,000 each for the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, officials told the Sun.
Gainesville City Manager Russ Blackburn and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell each told the Sun Jones would get a bill.
Police Maj. Rick Hanna told the Sun the expenses were high because so much territory had to be covered — the area around the church, the University of Florida football game and "soft targets" such as The Oaks Mall.
"We wanted a lot of high visibility and very preventative patrolling," said Hanna, who was in charge of the operation for Gainesville Police. "You have to weigh it — you don't want to create an atmosphere of hysteria, but we took it real serious."
The sheriff had 242 deputies on duty Sept. 11, 160 of whom were working specifically because of the planned protest, the Sun said.
Total costs for security actually were higher when adding participation by other agencies including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and several sheriff's offices that provided support such as bomb sniffing dogs and detection devices, officials told the Sun.
Blackburn said he isn't sure how realistic it is to expect the church to pay or how much legal authority the city has to compel the church to pay.
City Attorney Marion Radson said from his observations, the city was providing a "direct service" to the church.
Jones, a former hotel manager from Nashville, grabbed international attention when he announced that he would burn copies of Islam's holiest book on the nine-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. He backed off the plan Sept. 9 and flew to New York for a meeting that never materialized with New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to talk about moving the site of a proposed Islamic center near ground zero, which has also created an uproar.
Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.