For decades, First Baptist Church of Jacksonville has owned multiple city blocks worth of property along the northern edge of downtown Jacksonville – property it purchased at bargain rates during a time of growth for the church and a time of turmoil downtown.
But now, the church is looking to shrink down its massive, 1.5 million-square-foot downtown campus as it struggles with rising operating costs and sharp declines in attendance.
This past Sunday morning, FBC’s pastor Heath Lambert presented his plan for solving the church’s problems by significantly reducing its presence in downtown Jax. The plan – which was voted on and approved by the church’s congregation – would involve seeking a $30 million loan to finance renovations to a single, 182,000-square-foot city block of buildings centered around Hobson Auditorium.
The church would then put the rest of its property – which comprises several city blocks in downtown’s Church District – up for sale and operate out of its newly-reconfigured campus, while also developing smaller campuses throughout the city.
“Instead of asking people throughout Jacksonville to come to our church, we’ll take our church to them,” said Lambert.
Lambert indicated that, in addition to low attendance, the move was motivated by the cost of necessary maintenance on the buildings it wishes to sell, with yearly maintenance costs hovering around $5 million.
While the reconfiguration of its main campus and its financial obligations is sure to majorly impact FBC, its effects on downtown Jax may be even more seismic. It would open up the possibility of redeveloping over a million square feet of property and would also greatly reduce the amount of property affected by being within 1,500 feet of a church – which brings about restrictions on alcohol sales and other local zoning quirks.
As of now, there is no set timetable for the start of construction on the church’s revised downtown campus – or for when the church will begin to sell its unused properties.