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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 5, 201901:52 PM EST

First Baptist Church hires CBRE Jacksonville to market Downtown property

Church announced in September plans to downsize its 13.7-acre campus in response to declining attendance.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

First Baptist Church hired CBRE Jacksonville to help market and sell 11.29 acres of its Downtown campus, the commercial real estate firm announced Dec. 5 in a news release.

First Baptist Senior Pastor Heath Lambert unveiled a plan Sept. 8 to downsize its 13.7-acre campus in the Downtown core in response to declining church attendance and a growing multimillion-dollar maintenance bill on its aging 1.5 million-square-foot property.

Oliver Barakat is senior vice president at CBRE  and one of three real estate brokers from the firm working on the sale. In a phone interview Dec. 5, he said CBRE will seek a single buyer for the property. 

Barakat said the only change from Lambert’s original announcement is two of the site’s smaller buildings are under contract and won’t be part of the sale. 

Barakat declined to say which company or entity has a contract on the parcels, but said those structures amount to about 5,000 square feet. 

He said the contracts were drafted before CBRE was hired by the church in mid-November.

According to the news release, the sale will ccomprise six contiguous blocks and two partial blocks adjacent to the church.

CBRE Senior Vice President Cliff Taylor and Vice President Joe Ayers are listed as equal brokers on the sale, marketing the property for First Baptist.

In the interview, Barakat said CBRE will suggest “a mixture of uses” for the First Baptist site. As housing demand continues to grow, he anticipates strong interest from residential developers.

First Baptist Church is selling 11.29 acres of its Downtown campus.

CBRE called the property’s Commercial Central Business District zoning “flexible” and said it could open the site to “a host of possible uses.” 

Barakat said CBRE’s team will be reaching out to medical, education and residential groups. He said some of the existing buildings could be converted into corporate office space.

Barakat identified UF Health as one group CBRE will contact. Downtown Investment Authority CEO Lori Boyer said in November that she had spoken with UF Health representatives about the site, but Barakat said CBRE has not started a discussion with UF Health.

Boyer has advocated for a master-planned redevelopment as the best option for the site. 

The church property is in the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, which the DIA manages. As private property, the DIA cannot dictate terms of the site’s sale or intended use.

However, the DIA board would approve any request by a developer for taxpayer-backed incentives, which would give the city a role in determining how the site is used.

Barakat, a DIA board member, declined to speak Thursday about whether CBRE will recommend potential buyers seek city money for the project.

DIA already contracted CBRE to market another high-profile, city-owned Downtown site — The Ford on Bay at 220 and 330 E. Bay St.

The First Baptist property is bounded by City Hall, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Main Street  and the Duval County Courthouse area.

Oliver Barakat, senior vice president at CBRE, said some of the church's existing buildings could be converted into corporate office space.

While the property is next to a Jacksonville Transportation Authority Skyway stop, Barakat said a focus will be the property’s three parking garages that house nearly 2,450 parking spaces.

“The parking solution is already turnkey for whoever ends up developing the site,” Barakat said.

Taylor said in the news release that “the property is uniquely positioned near the municipal footprint and offers a rare opportunity to ‘place make’ in downtown Jacksonville.” 

The release also said it would be difficult in any downtown across the Southeast to “find a site of this size available for purchase. Redevelopment of the site should draw people from other parts of downtown and the city, becoming a catalyst that will spur additional development creating a vibrant, activated downtown.”

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.

Worship services will move to a renovated Hobson Auditorium, bounded by Church, Hogan, Laura and Ashley streets and built in 1904.

The First Baptist congregation gave church leadership its approval Sept. 8 to obtain a $30 million loan to finance the plan, which includes creating a new education and youth center, a “kids zone” and a welcome area.

CBRE did not give a timeline for the sale, but First Baptist leaders hope to open the consolidated church facility Downtown in the first half of 2021.(904) 356-2466

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