AUSTIN (KXAN) — A church in downtown Austin said its turned down tens of millions of dollars from developers wanting to buy the property.
First Baptist Church of Austin, also known as First Austin, has served at the corner of 9th and Trinity streets for 53 years. Many would call its location prime real estate, with the future site of the University of Texas at Austin Medical Center less than a mile away.
But instead of picking up and selling, the church said it’s looking to transform its 1.5 block property to meet the growing needs of downtown Austin.
Affordable community space
Specifically, First Austin Senior Pastor Griff Martin said they want to create a space for affordable child care, more venues for live music and visual arts along with more public spaces for people of all faiths to join together.
Martin said they have more space than they use, with 350 active members and a sanctuary that seats nearly 1,000 people.
Two years ago the church put out a request for proposal to the development community.
“Everybody just wanted to buy it, tear the church down, build something new,” Martin said. “As a membership, we quickly said that’s not who we are. We want to be located downtown. We want to try to preserve this space but in a new way. So now we’re reaching out looking for community partners.”
Martin said they are looking for a philanthropist, foundation, arts patron or other partner to work with them on renovating the 110,000 square-foot facility and the land next to it.
“We’re not just seeking a charitable contribution, but an investment in a partnership that can include an ownership interest in our property. Our goal is to not only return a financial profit to our partners, but also a civic profit to the broader community,” said Greg Milligan, a churchgoer who is helping with this effort.
Martin said whomever they work with doesn’t have to be of the same faith.
“I think it’s pivotal people realize you don’t have to match our religious beliefs but you do have to match our values,” Martin said. “Do you care about justice? Do you care about equality for all people? Do you care about trying to make the city of Austin a better place for childcare?”
‘It’s family. It’s community’
For churchgoers like Cathy Jones, this space has made all the difference in her life.
“It’s family. It’s community. Most of us, many of us are here, not because of what we believe. Because the truth is a lot of us believe very different things,” Jones said. “But we’re here because we love each other and we can be family together in this world.”
Jones said the church has also opened its doors to the theater community in Austin.
On the fourth floor of the church, she said there is the 150-seat Black Box Theater that is typically booked by local theater groups every week.
“We’ve become a home for many theater people throughout Austin and we love that,” Jones said. “We want to be able to continue that and expand it and make our facilities available for all sorts of people to use.”
Ultimately, many said the possibilities for this space are endless.
“We have a blank canvas in many ways with this block and a half,” Milligan said. “We want to see what we can create with other folks in the community to create some good.”