Positive signs point to sale of Baptist Building
January 14, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – Every hurdle appears to have been cleared and all that stands in the way of Cole County’s purchase of the Baptist Building is a vote by citizens on whether to approve a one-half cent sales tax increase that would fund the acquisition.
That vote is scheduled to take place Feb. 8 and if it passes the home of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) since 1969 will be sold to the county for $2.75 million, according to the contingency contract signed Aug. 24 between the MBC and the county. The contract gives the MBC 18 months to vacate from the date voters approve the tax increase.
“The Baptist Building has served Missouri Baptists well, but it is time to move into a more modern, cost-efficient building suitable to our present space needs,” MBC Executive Director David Clippard said Jan. 7. “We believe this sale will be good for Missouri Baptists and for Cole County. I urge all Cole County residents to give strong consideration to supporting the sales tax that will fund the new Criminal Justice Center for Cole County.”
A motion to form a committee to study the possible sale of the eight-story, 77-year-old building was introduced at the MBC’s annual meeting in 2003 by Pastor David Krueger, pastor, First Baptist Church, Linn. MBC leaders were spontaneously approached by the county in early summer 2004 about a possible deal. Those negotiations led to the signing of the contingency contract that will only go into effect if voters approve the sales tax measure.
County officials were eager to close a deal with the MBC on the property because it is the centerpiece of a larger city block of property upon which the county envisions building a new 150-bed jail and adjoining criminal justice center.
County leaders have held six public meetings at venues around Cole County and little – if any – opposition has been expressed at those meetings. Some who came to the meetings to oppose the plan became staunch supporters of the project when they learned the details of the Criminal Justice Center.
“It’s close to the county offices, close to City Hall and it’s close to the police station,” Presiding Cole County Commissioner Bob Jones said during one of the public hearings in October. “And the big thing we thought about is, this would protect and enhance the downtown area.”
County leaders said rising personnel and maintenance costs along with safety concerns are other reasons for building a new jail and justice center. By connecting the jail and justice center officials say it will be safer and cheaper to transport inmates.
Jones said all adjacent property owners to the Baptist Building have been contacted and he is confident that deals will be reached with them if voters approve the sales tax hike.
Some news media reports have suggested that the MBC’s 20-year lease agreement with the Missouri Baptist Foundation (MBF), which occupies the fifth floor of the structure, might present a roadblock.
In a Dec. 28 letter from MBC Attorney Michael Whitehead to Jones, Whitehead noted that the MBC Executive Board “has asked the Cole County Circuit Court for a declaratory judgment regarding the MBC’s rights and duties regarding the Foundation lease, among other things. We believe that the court will either void the MBF lease, or will void the MBF independent board. Either way, the MBC is committed to delivering the building free of any lease, either through the court system, by agreement, or by eminent domain.”
Clyde Angle, a Jefferson City attorney, recently asked if there may be asbestos in the Baptist Building and expressed concern about the costs to the county should the purchase be consummated and the planned demolition of the building commence.
However, in his letter to Jones, Whitehead attempted to assuage any concern about asbestos.
“It is our understanding that, when the Baptists remodeled the Missouri Hotel for office space use, all asbestos was removed at that time,” he wrote. “We do not believe that there is any remaining asbestos in the building. The county may inspect the building under the terms of the contract if there are still concerns.”