An expansive complex featuring a Buddhist temple, a shopping center, a restaurant and a hotel is planned for 10 acres in Pataskala, the dream of a Thai Catholic who runs two restaurants in Columbus.

Trairatana Ridhibhinyo, who goes by the name John Tai, said he has thought about building a Thai Buddhist temple for at least 15 years.

Though he is not a Buddhist, 95percent of his homeland is. He envisions not just a worship center but a place to celebrate and raise awareness of Thai culture.

The future location of the Columbus Buddhism Center, south of Blacks Road, is now just a soybean field.

Friday at 9 a.m., the land will be blessed and dedicated.

The complex will attract both Buddhists for worship and tourists, said Tai, who moved to Columbus in 1970 and opened Siam Express in the Greater Columbus Convention Center in 1980.

"My vision is they come to see our culture," he said. "They'll be able to come here to see something they'll never (otherwise) be able to see in Ohio."

Early plans for the $20 million complex include a temple, a residence for five monks, a building for meditation and prayer, an all-purpose building for meditation classes and wedding celebrations, a bell tower and several open-air structures.

Tai also plans a floating market over a pond, a hotel and a restaurant. He'd like to offer spa services, yoga classes and festivals.

He hopes to have the temple and restaurant open by July 2011, with the rest coming by 2014.

The $8 million for the temple and its adjacent buildings will be raised mostly in Thailand, where the project has received approval from the highest-ranking active Buddhist official, Tai said.

The other $12 million, for the commercial side, will come from investors in Thailand, China and Korea.

The 5 acres of land that will be dedicated Friday will be the site of the temple, monks' quarters and all-purpose building and has been donated by real-estate developer H. Burkley Showe.

Tai intends to raise the money to lease the adjacent 5 acres for the floating market, restaurant and hotel.

Showe, who met Tai 20 years ago as a patron at the Siam Oriental Restaurant on Bethel Road, owns property in Hawaii, where he donated funding for a Buddhist temple after meeting a group of monks through one of his Buddhist housekeepers.

"I kind of endorse what they do, even though I have no particular ties to Buddhism," said Showe, a Catholic. He said he tries to read Buddhist literature daily because Buddhism is "a beautiful exercise of the mind" that doesn't contradict his own faith.

The city of Pataskala has been approached with preliminary plans for the temple, Planning Director Dianne Harris said. Her office is working to identify any potential zoning issues.

Her main concern, she said, is access to water and sewer services because the land is undeveloped. Hook-ups could be expensive, and the city wouldn't pay for that.

The prospect of the Buddhism center is "certainly something very different for our community," she said. "It sounds exciting to have a major cultural center here."

By Meredith Heagney

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