By Bob Allen
LifeWay Christian Resources has sold its headquarters in downtown Nashville, Tenn., for a reported $125 million cash, the second largest amount of money ever spent in the city for a building or property, to a San Diego-based investment firm co-founded by NBA Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver.
Southwest Value Partners, which joined an original buyer consortium this fall and bought out all the other parties, plans to convert the 15-acre campus to a new gateway for downtown Nashville. Named “Uptown” for the time being, the mixed-use project could include hotel, entertainment, office and residential properties.
LifeWay, the Southern Baptist Convention publishing house, will continue to occupy a portion of the nine-building campus acquired gradually since 1891 until officials decide where to build a new headquarters.
LifeWay recently withdrew an offer to purchase 1.5 acres of city-owned riverfront property for $12.7 million. A new building part of the redevelopment of the current site was mentioned as a possibility, but according to an attorney quoted by The Tennessean is presently not a part of the deal.
Preservationists are concerned about the future of two buildings on the LifeWay campus that have historical significance. The Frost Building, built in 1913 and named after Baptist Sunday School Board founder J.M. Frost, is in the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Nashville recently listed the 11-story Sullivan Tower completed in 1953, a rare example of an Art Deco high rise, among Music City’s nine most endangered historic properties.
“LifeWay has been on this property since October 1913, so what happens here is important to me, our organization and Nashville,” LifeWay President Thom Rainer said in press release. “I am confident Southwest Value Partners will continue to steward this campus in a way that is most beneficial to downtown Nashville and those who live, work and visit here.”
Mark Schlossberg, co-managing partners of Southwest Value Partners, said the firm is committed to what is good for the people of Nashville.
“We have long respected Nashville as a great market with great people and over the past weeks have spent many hours working with some of Nashville’s finest professionals and stakeholders to understand the opportunities and best use of the LifeWay site,” Schlossberg said. “We have learned much about what Nashville needs and wants and look forward to sharing our plans and milestones. It’s a great project, and we are fully committed to its success.”
LifeWay trustees authorized sale of the current headquarters in February, saying the organization needs less than a third of the 1 million square feet of office, warehouse and parking space it currently owns.
LifeWay also owns and operates more than 180 LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation, as well as the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. In 2013 the company sold the the Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico for $1 dollar, claiming it lost money 24 of the previous 25 years.
The five-story SBC Executive Committee headquarters building next door to LifeWay at Ninth and Commerce is not included in the sale.