By Bob Allen
LifeWay Christian Resources is eyeing an acre and a half in downtown Nashville for its new headquarters, according to local media reports.
The Metro Development and Housing Agency, a Nashville government agency, is expected on July 21 to approve the sale of a 1.6-acre site it owns on First Avenue South at the foot of a bridge that spans the Cumberland River for LifeWay’s new 216,000-square-foot corporate headquarters. If the deal goes through, it would secure a long-term presence in Nashville for 1,244 people who work at the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing division.
In March LifeWay entered into a contract for sale of its current 14.5-acre campus covering 1.2 million square feet a mile away at One LifeWay Plaza. The sale, reported in the neighborhood of $125 million to $130 million, does not include LifeWay’s neighbor, the SBC Executive Committee, headquartered next door at the intersection of Commerce Street and Ninth Avenue North.
The proposed building site, located near a trendy downtown section nicknamed the Trolley Barns and Nashville’s spanking new 6,800-seat outdoor Ascend Amphitheater, is appraised at $4.8 million, but media sources say LifeWay is expected to pay more than that. If the deal goes through, LifeWay hopes to break ground this fall and move into the new Riverfront headquarters in 2017.
Founded as the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1891, LifeWay established its permanent office in downtown Nashville in 1913 in what eventually became known as the Frost Building. Named after the ministry’s founder, J.M. Frost, the building still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An 11-story Art Deco-style building known as the Sullivan Tower at 127 Ninth Avenue, North, was completed in 1953. Centennial Tower was added in 1990, followed by another expansion including a new chapel in 2000, aimed at meeting LifeWay’s needs through the year 2015.
LifeWay trustees authorized sale of the property in February to allow the agency to build a new facility “designed specifically for its ministries now and in the future.” LifeWay President Thom Rainer said with its current workforces, LifeWay needs about one third of its current space.
In addition to its Nashville headquarters, LifeWay oversees 186 stores and 4,300 employees in 29 states. It owns Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina and in 2013 divested from Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico, citing budget deficits at the 2,100-acre mountain destination near Santa Fe.