The Mathis Report: Harvest Baptist buys St. Matthew’s campus

Pastor says deal saves growing congregation “a ton of money and a ton of time.”

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Harvest Baptist Church was preparing to build a new campus on property it bought along the Arlington Expressway when the call came with another option.

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church along Merrill Road, 2 miles north of Harvest Baptist’s Arlington Road campus, offered to make a deal.

“We were able to save a ton of money and a ton of time,” said Harvest Baptist Pastor Bryan Samms.

Harvest Baptist Church now has a contract to buy the St. Matthew’s campus on about 6 acres at 6801 Merrill Road and invest $2.6 million for the land, buildings and renovations, he said.

Harvest Baptist Church Pastor Bryan Samms at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church along Merrill Road. Harvest Baptist intends to buy St. Matthew’s and relocate there under a new name, River City Baptist Church.
Harvest Baptist Church Pastor Bryan Samms at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church along Merrill Road. Harvest Baptist intends to buy St. Matthew’s and relocate there under a new name, River City Baptist Church.

The deal should close Sept. 6 and the move follows that month. St. Matthew’s will rent space there temporarily for worship as it makes its next move, he said.

The new space will provide seating for up to 500.

“The Lord opened the door for us, without question. He knew we needed to save millions of dollars,” Samms said. “We could get so much more for so much less.”

Harvest Baptist had been anticipating investing up to $12 million over three phases at the 18.5-acre Arlington Expressway property it bought in September for $1.75 million.

Now, that site is under contract for $1.55 million to an investor that Samms understands is contemplating senior housing.

He said the deal went to contract the last week of June and closing is set for August.

“We were able to get rid of it and with minimal loss,” he said.

And the Harvest Baptist property at 1051 Arlington Road N., at Lillian Road is listed for sale for $850,000.

That 1.62-acre site comprises about 20,000 square feet of office, an auditorium and education space, Samms said. None of the interested buyers is under contract.

Samms said he came to Harvest Baptist and a congregation of 60-70 people in 2016. Sunday attendance of up to 250-300 has strained the 52 parking spaces and 200 auditorium seats.

Harvest had drawn up plans and bought the expressway land when St. Matthew’s told him it was downsizing.

It provides 50,000 square feet of buildings for the church, and the auditorium can seat up to 500.

Harvest Baptist is remodeling the auditorium, removing pews to add chairs, redoing floors and adding new paint and lighting. The fellowship hall is repainted and the lobby already is redone.

Upon the relocation, the 46-year-old Harvest will become River City Baptist Church.

“It’s a fresh start,” Samms said.

Harvest Baptist was able to avoid a long building process and an expensive new facility, he said.

“It’s a great investment overall.”

Shirley Farrell, president of the St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church council, said Friday the congregation declined in size to a Sunday attendance of about 65 and made the decision in March to sell the property.

She said she drove by the roundabout property that was posted as the next home for River City Baptist Church and called Samms.

Farrell said St. Matthew’s will continue to worship rent-free at its existing property for a few years as it seeks a new home, probably in the same area.

She said the church has been at the Merrill Road property for 50 years. State corporate records show it was incorporated there in 1965.

Longtime Arlington residents and travelers might remember the expressway property as the site of the Expressway Mall, which was demolished at least a decade ago for construction of the roundabout off the Arlington Expressway. wrote in 2013 about the evolution of the Arlington Expressway. It said the 195,000-square-foot Expressway Mall was demolished in 2006.

Publix opened one of its first two Jacksonville stores there in 1971. Burlington Coat Factory also anchored the mall. Both left the mall by summer 1995.

Calico Jack’s Oyster Bar operated in a restaurant outside of the mall between 1985 and 1997.

Facebook members asked about the Expressway Mall shared more memories about the Expressway Mall, including those about Petunia Patch, Baskin-Robbins, Eckerd Drugs, a material store (Cloth World, they recall), Duff’s buffet, Hallmark, King Arthur’s barber shop, a teacher supply store and a theater.