Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church will not pursue its plan to sell a majority of its Downtown campus and consolidate to “The Hobson Block” as offers to buy its property dwindled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
First Baptist Senior Pastor Heath Lambert announced the church leadership’s decision Aug. 2 in a town hall meeting with the congregation, according to a report by WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record.
“Because of the change of the real estate market brought on by the COVID recession, I want to let you know very clearly that The Hobson Block plan is over. We’re not talking about that anymore,” Lambert said.
Lambert said in January six to eight “large buyers” were interested in the 11.29-acre property listed by CBRE Jacksonville. Those buyers ended communication after the onset of the pandemic in March.
“The kind of uncertainly created by the pandemic makes all of these guys go away. We haven’t seen or heard from them in months,” Lambert said.
Offers from other buyers within the last 30 days included smaller sections of the church’s Downtown real estate and were about 25% of the value brokers advised First Baptist to accept in January, Lambert said.
The pastor did not provide specific figures during the sermon-style town hall at the church’s Lindsay Memorial Auditorium.
“Several weeks ago, when I received that information, I realized we’re up against a wall we can’t get over,” Lambert said.
The church’s decision halts its $30 million project announced Sept. 8 to renovate the historic Hobson Auditorium and redevelop 1.53 acres of church property on West Church Street.
That includes plans to demolish a 1927-era building to construct a new welcome center. The church fought a historic landmark designation recommended by city Planning and Development Department staff that Lambert and church officials said would have derailed the consolidation plans.
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