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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Oct. 17, 201908:30 AM EST

Boyer wants master-planned redevelopment for First Baptist property Downtown

Downtown Investment Authority CEO says selling the property piecemeal would be a lost opportunity.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer
Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer

Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer said a master-planned redevelopment could be the best option for First Baptist Church officials as they plan to sell 12.17 acres of the church’s Downtown campus.

Boyer told DIA board members Wednesday the redevelopment opportunity for Downtown is in the property’s six contiguous blocks, but the impact would be diminished if the parcels are sold separately.

“What I see is that the collective property presents an opportunity for Downtown redevelopment that is bigger than may occur if it’s piecemealed,” she said.

Boyer was responding Wednesday to board member Oliver Barakat, who asked about DIA’s role in the First Baptist sale. He said the First Baptist campus is privately owned and a sale will be a private transaction.

Barakat is a senior vice president at the real estate firm CBRE Jacksonville. 

Boyer said after Wednesday’s meeting that she contacted First Baptist following its Sept. 8 announcement that it wanted to sell most of its Downtown campus. Church leaders said they were interviewing real estate brokers but have not announced a hire or a strategy.

“I know that any request to hold off for a while runs counter to their desire to move forward, so I don’t want to stop them from their plan,” Boyer said. “I want to figure out how we can work together on that and if there’s something that we can do. Maybe we do a RFP (request for proposals) for the master plan. I don’t know what form that might take.”

First Baptist has proposed selling buildings totaling 1.3 million square feet of space and nine Downtown city blocks bordered by Union, Pearl, Church and Main streets. The sale is in response to declining church attendance and a growing multimillion-dollar maintenance bill on its aging, property which totals 1.5 million square feet.

First Baptist Church will keep a 182,000-square-foot building on 1.53 acres called the Hobson Block to be the center of the church’s Downtown ministry.

Amy Evenson, assistant to First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Heath Lambert, said in an email Thursday the church is open to different marketing strategies.

“We are open to selling the property together or to be sold piecemeal,” she wrote. “We are still finalizing with a broker, but don’t have any plans to make formal announcements about that.”

“I just don’t want to lose the opportunity, and they may be working on that. I  don’t want to prejudge that they’re parceling it out individually,” Boyer said. “They may be looking for a master developer and a master plan themselves.”

The topic also came up Oct. 9 when Boyer served on a panel at the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Transit-Oriented Development Workshop. She previously stated she thinks First Baptist’s six contiguous blocks could lure a medical innovation campus, an option raised at the event.

Boyer said during Wednesday’s meeting it would take time for her and city leaders to engage hospital executives to determine if there’s a medical system interested in a Downtown campus or if a higher education institution could use some of the space. 

The congregation has authorized church leaders to take out a $30 million loan to finance the redevelopment and new construction on the Hobson Block.  Lambert said Sept. 8 the tentative timeline is to open the consolidated facility Downtown in the first half of 2021.

Proceeds from the sale would be used to help pay off the loan.

“So I think there’s a conversation that we need to have about whether we want to try to talk about an option or something that would give us some time to talk about a master plan,” Boyer told the board.


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