Sale of Fla.’s Baptist Building announced

A sacrificial investment made by Florida Baptists decades ago could make a far-reaching global missions impact this year as the State Board of Missions approved a multi-million dollar contract to sell the Baptist Building property in Jacksonville.

Fifty-one percent of the proceeds of the Baptist Building property sale will be directed to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program for worldwide mission causes, pledged Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, during the State Board’s April 1 meeting at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Leesburg, Fla.

“Florida Baptists and their churches sacrificially gave their Cooperative Program gifts and private dollars from their churches to construct the Baptist Building many years ago,” Green said. “We owe it to Florida Baptists to use this as missions money.

“How exciting it will be to give over half of the proceeds to the Cooperative Program and impact global missions with such a gift.”

Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, expressed gratitude to Green and Florida Baptists following the announcement.

“God bless Florida Baptists and Dr. Tommy Green!” Page said. “The gifting of 51 percent of the proceeds of the sale of the property there in Jacksonville will touch lives across our nation and across the world and will make a difference in eternity. We praise the Lord for this great news.”

The Baptist Building is located on a full city block just south of downtown in San Marco, one of the city’s most vibrant shopping, entertainment and residential neighborhoods. The area situated along the south bank of the St. Johns River has boasted numerous affluent housing and residential developments in recent years.

The property is a “unique site in the urban core, a rare find,” said Brian Moulder of CBRE Group, Inc., the commercial real estate firm marketing the property, as he addressed the State Board during its meeting.

Moulder said the purchaser of the property, a commercial real estate development firm, plans to construct a mixed-used residential building with retail space on the lower level and on-site parking. The developer has developed other properties in Jacksonville and has good credibility with working with city officials, Moulder assured the Board. The company is now taking rezoning applications with the city, a process expected to take 175 days.

Completion of the sale is anticipated by year’s end. Construction is to start immediately, Moulder said.

Green shared with the board that in the past four months as details of the sale were negotiated, the Convention staff had multiple conference calls with the Board’s Convention Property Committee keeping them apprised of the progress of the sale. The committee affirmed the completion of the sales agreement on March 7. The contract was signed March 17.

The construction of the Baptist Building was undertaken in 1958. When completed in 1960 the 50,000-square-foot building was composed of five floors and a basement. The original cost of the building, $934,017, included the purchase of land, construction, architects fees and furnishings.

Across the next five decades, additional costs were incurred for Florida’s convention to purchase the entire block, build additional buildings and provide capital improvements, totaling expenditures of more than $3 million, said Steve Baumgardner, assistant executive director and director of business services.

The 3.5-acre block located on Hendricks Avenue now hosts several buildings, including the original Baptist Building, a building that houses the offices of the Florida Baptist Financial Services and the Florida Baptist Credit Union, a metal storage building and a building at times used for theological education classes and as a recording studio. The Florida Baptist Witness leases space for their staff on the fifth floor of the Baptist Building.

The building served as the convention’s hub for missions and ministry for Florida Baptists for more than a half century.

But in recent years, the maintenance and upkeep of the aging building began to spark discussion to sell the property. Several attempts to market the building during the past 10 years fell flat as the downturn in the economic climate resulted in a devalued real estate market. As market conditions improved in recent months and the demand for the Baptist Building property increased, consideration to sell the building resurfaced.

When Green was elected in May 2015 as executive director, he promised the sale of the Baptist Building would be a priority. The new exec took immediate steps to downsize the convention staff for better efficiency and effectiveness and reassigned staff to live and serve in regions across the state, making the large facility unnecessary to house the streamlined staff.

Then during its Nov. 9, 2015, meeting in Panama City, at Green’s request, the board reaffirmed its decision to sell the Baptist Building and requested the executive director to develop a plan for relocation, leading to actions taken during their April 1 meeting.

CBRE will assist the convention in finding and leasing new office space for staff in another location in Jacksonville’s Southside, most likely along the I-95 corridor south of Baymeadows Road and north of Old St. Augustine Road, where the Baptist Medical Center South is located.

Board member John Green, pastor of Shindler Drive Baptist Church in Jacksonville (Tommy Green’s son) asked Moulder to share relocation plans.

Moulder said the $300,000 annual budget for the upkeep of the Baptist Building is projected to be about the cost of an annual lease of 7,500 square feet of office space needed to house the current Jacksonville staff. The new office space will provide much more efficient and useable space, he said.

Green told the board that the convention will continue to provide space to the Florida Baptist Witness staff and Florida Baptist Financial Services, if desired. The Florida Baptist Credit Union, which recently has announced a merger with Jacksonville-based First Florida Credit Union will no longer need Convention-provided space.

The action to approve the sale of the building by the board was unanimous.

— Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.