The Hobson Block’s Lindsay and Administration office buildings along West Ashley Street.
Faced with diminishing membership and rapidly increasing maintenance costs, First Baptist Church of Jacksonville has announced its intentions to consolidate its downtown campus into a single block and eventually sell off the remaining nine blocks of buildings, surface parking lots and parking garages. On Sunday afternoon, The Florida Times-Union reported that the congregation overwhelmingly approved the $30 million consolidation plan.
The Hobson Block’s 1903 Hobson Auditorium, 1927 era Sunday School Building and parking garage along West Church Street.
Later in the afternoon, additional information on the plan was released by the financially struggling congregation, currently with nearly 1.5 million square feet of space on its hands. Remaining committed to the urban core, the church would consolidate into a single block that would feature 182,000 square feet of space for the church’s needs. That plan would center around the restoration of the 116-year-old Henry J. Klutho designed Hobson Auditorium being restored as the church’s main worship center. In addition, adjacent Administration and Lindsay Buildings would be remodeled as educational, gathering and administrative uses.
A conceptual West Church Street rendering of the new consolidated First Baptist Church.
Renderings released by First Baptist Church show an intention to add a modern entrance to the Hobson Block by razing the six-story Sunday School Building at 125 West Church Street. A contributing structure to the Downtown Jacksonville Historic District, the six-story Sunday School Building was completed in 1927. Designed by famed Chattanooga, TN architect Reuben Harrison Hunt, between 1938 and 1967 it served as the headquarters of the Gulf Life Insurance Company. The church anticipates construction beginning within the next few months and that process taking 18 to 24 months.
First Baptist Church Downtown Campus Map. The Hobson Block (No. 1) is identified in red.
However, the most exciting aspect of the plan isn’t the church remaining committed to downtown or the Hobson Block. It’s the opportunity to introduce creativity, life and energy in an equitable manner to nine blocks of the Northbank core that have been underutilized for a number of years. The properties the church could give up are suitable for a mix of uses including educational, arts and culture, live performance, retail, office, residential space, parking consolidation and potential infill development. With this in mind, here are the properties that could soon be on the church’s chopping block.