When First Baptist Church of Columbus broke ground on its new campus on Bluecutt Road in 2009, one of the biggest challenges was selling its downtown property, a site covering two-thirds of a city block the church has occupied for almost two centuries.
Monday, the property was, at long last, put under contract.
Realtors who negotiated the sale — Rhett Real Estate’s Royce Hudspeth representing the church and Joshua Holder of Legacy Real Estate representing the purchaser — would not divulge the name of the buyer or the sale price on Monday, citing the deal hasn’t officially closed.
The most recent listing set the price at $450,000 noting that it would entertain lower offers. The church complex has four main buildings occupying 81,000 square feet and was initially listed at $4.9 million. Five years ago, it was listed at $1.5 million.
Although the church has intended to sell the downtown property since it bought the Bluecutt Road property in 2005, the efforts to find a buyer ramped up with the arrival of Kevin Cuthbertson as pastor in February.
“He called me and asked me to take over the listing and get things going,” said Hudspeth, who is a member of First Baptist. “We talked to several groups who had an interest in the property. One of the things that appealed to us about this group is that they wanted to keep up the historic appearance of the church. That was important to a lot of our members.”
Membership voted to approve the sale during its Sunday morning service.
Holder said that although the buyer is not from the area, he is a Mississippian who has focused on development projects in North Mississippi.
Begun in 1832, the church at 202 Seventh St. N. is one of the city’s oldest. The current sanctuary was built in 1908 with the other buildings added over the following decades. Although it is a part of the city’s historic district, it has no state or national historical designations, which will allow the new owner latitude in converting the church to a mixed-use facility.
“It just went under contract today, so we’re still getting all our ducks in a row,” Holder said Monday. “The plans are for a multi-functional property that will include single-family housing, office and commercial space. We may keep the day care center open and use the sanctuary as a wedding venue. But at this point, we’re not too far into specifics. It’s such a large property. We’ll be talking to local contractors to come up with ideas about how we can best use the property.”
Holder said the project will definitely include what he called high-end apartments, but he was reluctant to speculate on how many apartments would be built.
“We want to be careful not to oversaturate the market,” he said. “But apartments are definitely in the plan, and we could have them ready in eight months.”
The property is currently zoned as C-1 (light commercial). Holder said the new owner will apply for a change in the zoning to permit mixed-use residential.
“We’ll be focusing on doing our due diligence as we move toward closing,” Holder said.
The new owner prefers to remain anonymous until closing on the deal in early January, something that will allow him to delay paying property taxes on the site until 2023.
Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews said he was asked to provide two property tax estimates based on valuations of $700,000 and $800,000.
“It comes out to $16,204 annually at $700,000 and $18,519 at $800,000,” Andrews said.
As a church, First Baptist was not required to pay taxes on the property.
Hudspeth said the sales agreement has a provision that would allow First Baptist to lease the sanctuary for 12 to 18 months.
“That gives the church some flexibility as they transition to the new facilities on Bluecutt,” Hudspeth said. “We know it’s going to be sad for some of our members to make the move, but everyone understands it is for the best.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.