Ga. Baptists to explore property sale
DULUTH, Ga. (BP) -- The Georgia Baptist Convention's Executive Committee has voted to entertain any valid offers for a potential sale of its six-year-old Baptist Missions and Ministry Center and 43 acres of property.
GBC Executive Director J. Robert White, citing interest from realtors and private entities in recent years, made the recommendation to the Executive Committee during its mid-March meeting. The committee's consensus vote permits White to schedule exploratory site visits with potential buyers.
At-large board member Larry Wynn of Dacula made the motion to accept White's suggestion.
White later told The Christian Index, the convention's newsjournal, that the building is not being listed for sale.
The 43 acres of prime real estate across from the massive Gwinnett Arena sports and entertainment complex and the Chamber of Commerce on Sugarloaf Parkway has been a key factor in the site's popularity.
The arena, which includes the Gwinnett Convention Center, draws upwards of a million visitors a year to sports events, concerts and other events.
"We are not bankrupt and we are up to date on all our financial obligations," White emphasized to head off any speculation regarding the recommendation. Since the 2008 recession, the state convention has trimmed its budget by $11.8 million, or 22.56 percent. Staffing levels in the building, which peaked at 133 just three years ago, have been cut to 103. The latest round of cutbacks occurred in late January when 18 positions were eliminated statewide.
But the latest financial figures released at the GBC Executive Committee meeting March 13 show that, so far this year, income is up sharply for the period ending Feb. 29. The convention is showing an increase of $802,853 or 16.52 percent from the same period in 2011, which posted a decrease of $756,292 or 13.46 percent.
White said criticism of the building also led him to consider making the request of the Executive Committee, though it was not the driving factor. He said he knew the building had become a hindrance to some and did not want that to be a roadblock toward cooperation.
Wynn agreed, telling The Index that "it is not where you do ministry but how you do ministry. Our mission is always more important than a building.
"In Hebrews we read that we should 'lay down every weight' that holds us down, that becomes a hindrance to our running the race," Wynn said. "I feel that Dr. White's heart is in the right place in keeping missions central to what Georgia Baptists are all about."
In discussing what would happen if the property is sold, White said "a significant amount of office space [is available] in our immediate area at a reasonable price that we could purchase or rent, or we could even move into a renovated big box store like an old Walmart.
"We can do our work anywhere, even in a field with a tent. But I can't help but be impressed by the number of people who continue to express an interest in our property.
"It may be God's will for us to just be here for a season, or it could be longer if He doesn't send a valid offer," White said. "Until then, we can only assume this is where He wants us to be."
If Georgia Baptists decided to sell the property, White said it would not be at "fire sale prices. God has given us a treasure here and we will fully protect the convention's interest in the property. We will wait for the best possible offer."
White said Georgia Baptists constructed the building for $43.5 million and owe $26 million on the property.
"We are not interested in taking $43,499,000 as a purchase price," White said.
Any acceptable offer, he said, would have to include a generous premium to recoup any relocation costs that a move would incur.
"It is very difficult to find 43 acres like this in the heart of Gwinnett in such a desirable location, and that is what is driving much of the interest in this property," White said.
White told Executive Committee members that every phase of the process to relocate from its former Flowers Road location was approved by the convention in annual session. The relocation committee looked at nearly 200 different pieces of property before settling on the Sugarloaf Parkway site, which had to be cobbled together from several different tracts.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.