Lifeway Christian Resources announced the sale of its three-year-old office building in downtown Nashville for $95 million and its plans to move to a downsized space reflective of its transition to a nimble and remote workforce.
A combination of declining market forces exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the Southern Baptist Convention agency’s decision to sell the 277,000-square-foot, $100 million headquarters it moved into in November 2017.
“We completed a study two years ago that showed we were using the building at only 60% occupancy on a daily basis,” Lifeway CEO Ben Mandrell said in the May 14 announcement. “Because of a robust remote work culture, we had lots of space we weren’t using.”
Seeing the effectiveness of the virtual office approach instituted during the height of the coronavirus outbreak also contributed to the decision-making process, he added. “Our employees have been highly productive in this new hybrid work environment, and they’ve told us they enjoy the flexibility working from anywhere provides. We’ve listened to them and included their feedback into our plans for a new collaboration space.”
Lifeway said it will continue to occupy a portion of the building it sold to Nashville-based Rubicon Equities and San Francisco-based Meritage Group LP until it identifies a location for conference rooms, drop-in workstations and casual areas so employees can gather physically when necessary.
“Our new space will be designed to reflect Lifeway’s culture of community, connectivity and relationship-building, as we chart what’s next for the ministry of Lifeway,” Mandrell said.
The Bible, books and curriculum publisher has made dramatic real estate moves in recent years. For decades, Lifeway (previously known as the Baptist Sunday School Board) occupied a 14.5-acre campus in downtown Nashville. The agency sold that property in 2015 for $125 million and broke ground on the new, smaller building it has just sold.
In 2019, the agency closed all 170 of its brick-and-mortar Lifeway Christian Stores nationwide as part of a “dynamic digital strategy” and because the retail operation lost almost $50 million from 2014 to 2019.
“While we had hoped to keep some stores open, current market projections show this is no longer a viable option,” then-acting President Brad Waggoner said when the closures were announced in March 2019.“Lifeway is moving into a new era with a strategic digital focus that will prepare us for the future and allow us to better serve our customers.”
The pandemic impacted the bottom line, as well, with the company announcing budget cuts last year of up to $30 million, a move that included hiring freezes, salary cuts for executives, layoffs and a halt on discretionary spending.
“Lifeway stands to lose tens of millions of dollars of revenue that the organization would normally generate over the summer months from camps, events, VBS and ongoing curriculum sales,” Mandrell said when the cuts were announced in April 2020 .
In December, Lifeway finalized the sale of Ridgecrest Conference Center and Summer Camps in North Carolina to a nonprofit created to maintain the facility as a Christian camp and conference center. Rising costs, uncertainties around the coronavirus outbreak and new business strategies motivated the decision to sell, Mandrell said last spring.
“This was a painful decision,” Mandrell said. “Lifeway’s leaders have prayed over this decision and looked at multiple options to keep Ridgecrest. The more than 100-year-old conference center has a rich heritage and spiritual legacy for Southern Baptists. However, the decision is a necessary one.”
That action was preceded by the 2014 sale of Glorieta, a 2,400-acre campground and conference center in New Mexico, to a Texas-based camping group for the price of $1.