By Bob Allen
The congregation of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., voted Oct. 26 to sell 1.26 acres of its downtown property for $18 million to a buyer planning to build a Hyatt Regency hotel.
A fixture of downtown Nashville for more than 190 years, in recent years First Baptist has attracted interest from property developers for its proximity to Nashville’s new 2.1 million square-foot Music City Center, a meeting site adjacent to both Bridgestone Arena and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Hugh Sloan, chairman of a committee formed to implement a First Baptist Church master plan adopted in 2012, told church members the asking price for the property was $15 million, but the corporate entity called Nova Development LLC offered more money “because they wanted to get our attention.”
“And they did,” Sloan quipped. “To quote the buyer, he wanted to knock us off our seats.”
Church members voted 476-22 to accept the offer, a majority just above 95 percent.
Terms of the sale grant the buyer 90 days for site inspection. After that the buyer will deposit $1 million in earnest money that will be non-refundable if the deal is not closed within 30 days.
Sloan said the buyer will work with an architect hired by an earlier prospective buyer to design what was to be a Marriott, but now will be a Hyatt Regency. Sloan said the Hyatt corporation has committed to underwriting half the construction costs, a significant factor after negotiations to sell the property to two other national hotel developers fell through.
“The reason is they’ve been trying to enter the Nashville market or three years, and they are as excited about our location as any other site available,” Sloan said.
The property formerly was home to The Next Door, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving women in crisis started by women from First Baptist Church in 2002. In 2010 the group expanded with centers in Knoxville and Chattanooga. In October the ministry cut a ribbon on a new Community for Women facility in downtown Nashville.
Sloan said plans call for a hotel with 400-450 rooms and parking for a minimum of 400 cars. The hotel will allow First Baptist Church to use 100 parking spaces on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights.
Formed in 1820, First Baptist Church survived controversies in the 19th century including Campbellism, anti-missionism, opposition to Sunday schools and Landmarkism.
During the Civil War more than 100 church members fought for the Confederacy. The Union Army seized the building after the fall of Nashville in 1862 and used it for two years as a hospital.
First Baptist joined the Southern Baptist Convention when it separated from Northern Baptists in 1845. The Baptist Sunday School Board, now LifeWay Christian Resources, was organized at First Baptist in 1891. In the 1920s the church served as a laboratory for Arthur Flake’s “five-fold formula” for building a standard Sunday school.
The current building opened in 1970 and is the church’s third downtown location. The steeple is recycled from an earlier structure built in 1884.