By Vicki Brown
Word&Way News Writer
Missouri Baptist Convention and Cole County Commission representatives inked a contingency contract on Aug. 25 for the possible sale of the Baptist Building for $2.75 million. A new jail and criminal justice center would be built in the 400 Block of E. High Street in Jefferson City –only if a couple of contingencies are met.
First, the 13 other property owners in the block also must agree to sell. The county needs the entire block to complete its proposed criminal justice center. In addition to a new jail, the center would include the sheriff's office and the 19th Judicial District Circuit Court.
Presiding Cole County Commissioner Bob Jones called the release of information on The Pathway Web site and an Aug. 27 Jefferson City Post-Tribune article "unfortunate." The commission would have preferred to have had time to contact each property owner individually before word of the pending agreement with the MBC had been released. None of the other property owners had been contacted as of Aug. 30.
Because the Baptist Building is the largest section of the block, commissioners had to negotiate its purchase before approaching other landowners. "We couldn't go forward with contacting the other property owners until we had something firm about the Baptist Building," Jones said in a telephone interview on Aug. 30.
Other landowners were to be contacted by phone this week, with the commission to send a follow-up letter.
Commission and MBC representatives negotiated the option to purchase for about 45 days, Jones said.
Second, Cole County voters would have to approve a half-cent law enforcement sales tax. The tax is expected to be presented to voters in February 2005. Commissioners appear confident that voters would approve the measure. "I think once they understand what the issues are and what we're dealing with in our old jail…they'll understand" why a new complex is needed, Jones told the Post-Tribune.
Messengers to the 2003 MBC annual meeting gave the executive board the authority to pursue a possible sale. At that meeting, they approved a motion by David Krueger, pastor of First Baptist Church, Linn, for the executive board to appoint a committee to investigate the possible sale and to grant the authority to pursue opportunities.
At the same meeting, messengers also authorized establishment of a $1-million line of credit through Exchange National Bank in Jefferson City to start the Agency Restoration Fund and to pay fees incurred for the ongoing legal action against five MBC-related institutions. The Baptist Building was used as collateral for the transaction. Generally, any lien against property must be settled as part of its sale.
In 2001, Missouri Baptist University, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist Foundation and Word&Way chose to elect their own trustees rather than to allow the convention to elect them. The Baptist Home trustees took the same action a year earlier.
In addition to convention offices, the Baptist Building houses the Foundation and the Missouri Baptist Credit Union.
MBCU director Dana Alderman was contacted about the possible sale and was told that the credit union is "welcome" to move with the MBC. Credit union board members will discuss options during a strategic planning meeting in September, Alderman said.
According to The Pathway report, the Foundation also would be allowed to move with the convention. "We are prepared to take them with us," MBC president David Tolliver is quoted as saying. "There may be some things happen between now and then that will impact this legally, but we are prepared to take them along."
In a prepared statement, Foundation administrators "welcomed" the agreement. "The efforts to provide an improved headquarters building for executive board staff is applauded," the statement read.
MBF president James R. Smith pointed out that the Foundation does not occupy the building's fifth floor "rent free" as reported on The Pathway Web site. Instead, the Foundation holds a pre-paid lease on the space, a lease that was negotiated in exchange for building renovations the Foundation paid for in 1999. The 20-year lease was signed on Dec. 15, 1998.
The Foundation borrowed $300,000 from the convention to fund renovation of the fifth and sixth floors and the basement, the elevator lobby areas and stairwells on all seven floors and installation of the north-side entrance to the building. Total cost is estimated at more than $335,000.
The loan included a six-percent interest rate on $150,000 and no interest on the remainder. The Foundation was to repay the loan within 10 years.
At their April 2001 meeting, executive board members forgave $150,000 of the debt and stipulated that the Foundation place remaining payments as a gift to the MBC's Future Generations fundraising campaign to benefit the Missouri Baptist Children's Home, The Baptist Home, Hannibal-LaGrange College, Southwest Baptist University, William Jewell College and MBU.
Smith noted that no one from the executive board contacted the Foundation about the proposed Baptist Building sale before the option was signed, "as required by the terms of the pre-paid lease." But, Foundation administrators plan to "work with" the board and Cole County as plans develop.
According to The Pathway report, Tolliver "applauds the contract" and called the proposal "one that is beneficial to all concerned." Messengers to the 2004 annual meeting will be asked to allow the MBC to consider other cities as possible relocation sites.