RICHMOND, Va. -- Five anonymous donors have pledged to match up to $500,000 in contributions to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond over the next year, to assist the school as it begins a process of moving to a new location in the city where it was founded 20 years ago.
If successful, the matching gift initiative would raise $1 million for the transition -- half the goal set by the seminary’s trustees last month when they approved a plan to sell the current campus and relocate.
“This is a gracious and visionary act by these donors,” said seminary president Ron Crawford in a press statement. “They are declaring their support of BTSR in this season of transition and are challenging other to follow their example. Everyone loves a matching campaign; where else can a donor double her money?”
Crawford said the donors are committed to matching new contributions, though he added that “contributions from churches and other organizations will be matched in so far as they exceed the average contribution of the church or organization over the last two years.”
BTSR’s planned move is in part a response to long-term financial difficulties. The seminary has a debt of about $7 million, most of it incurred at the outset of the seminary’s existence with the purchase and renovation of four buildings originally owned by the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The cost of maintaining those buildings -- each more than 60 years old -- combined with a weakened economy have posed challenges to the seminary’s administration.
But Crawford said the relocation proposal also emerged from a “new collaborative and creative vision” for the school.
“The seminary’s new vision seeks to collaborate with other organizations with similar values in a community of mission and learning to better prepare women and men for local ministry,” he said.
In a series of blogs over the past few weeks, Crawford has detailed the long-term financial advantages and anticipated costs of relocating – which he said won’t occur for several years.
“A relocation is a very doable thing …,” he wrote. “In fact, if we can sell the property for what it is appraised for and get $2 million in pledged gifts to the transition campaign, then we will have up to $4.5 million to begin construction at another location.”
Crawford did not cite the appraised value of the buildings on Richmond’s North Side, just across the street from Union Theological Seminary. Some observers place the value as high as $10 million.
Relocation will dramatically alter the seminary’s financial circumstances, Crawford wrote.
“The cost to operate the seminary drops in 2014 as compared to 2010 because our building and debt service expenses have been greatly reduced,” he said. “At the end of 2014 we expect to be debt free.”
Though the seminary has made no decision about its new location, Crawford said the school will be housed in 21,000 square feet, instead of the 106,000 square feet it currently owns.
BTSR was founded in 1989 and classes began in the fall of 1991 with 32 students, an enrollment that has grown to about 150. It initially was housed at Northminster Baptist Church in Richmond and later rented space from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, before purchasing its first building in the mid-1990s.