A Summer of Change for Golden Gate Baptist Seminary
by Ben M. Skaug
The summer of 2014 witnessed massive changes in how and where Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary will deliver ministerial training to students.
In July, the seminary announced the sale of its property in Mill Valley, California, and added $50 million to its endowment. In August, it announced the purchase of a new campus in Southern California and asked the Southern Baptist Convention to change its name to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Sale of Mill Valley Campus
The sale agreement for Golden Gate’s Mill Valley property included a base price of $85 million, along with other terms financially advantageous to the seminary, including a favorable lease-back rate; the ability for the seminary to remain fully operational in the Mill Valley location for two years; and the seminary retaining revenue earned through rentals and other uses of the property during the lease-back period, according to seminary President Jeff Iorg.
“There’s been much conjecture about the value of the Mill Valley property over the years,” Iorg said. “In reality, because of the development restrictions on the property, its value is less than some have speculated. We have tried for years to remove these entitlement restrictions, to no avail. We have watched with increased urgency as value has continued to erode because of these restrictions.”
Iorg said the seminary had received “multiple offers for the property over the past two years. All of them were for less than the offer we ultimately accepted.”
The sale accords with hopes expressed for the seminary by the SBC Executive Committee. Chronicling challenges Golden Gate faced at its Mill Valley campus in a June 2007 report from its Funding Study Committee (FSC), the EC noted that the campus “is part of a community where the average residential property value exceeds one million dollars,” creating a “significant disincentive for growth and expansion on that campus.”
The FSC report also noted that “obtaining adequate faculty and student housing [near Mill Valley] is extremely difficult, undermining any meaningful growth strategy” and concurred with Golden Gate’s trustees and leadership that “the best prospects for growth and service to the SBC” are at a Southern California campus.
The seminary will continue to be fully operational at the Mill Valley campus for two years and will maintain a new regional campus in the San Francisco Bay Area once the relocation of its main campus is complete in 2016, Iorg said.
“We could not sell the land and close the campus abruptly. We had to build the relocation process . . . that preserved our institutional commitment to current students,” he said. “An indispensable part of the agreement is the two-year lease-back.
“I am particularly grateful for our faculty and staff who are working hard to keep us fully operational during this transition,” he said.
New Main Campus
In announcing the formal purchase and sale agreement of the new site in Southern California to the seminary community, Iorg said, “We have chosen a facility to meet the needs of students in the twenty-first century. We will soon have a high-quality educational delivery center with excellent facilities for fulfilling our mission of shaping leaders in the future.”
The new site includes a six-story building, an adjacent ready-to-build lot, and more than seven hundred parking places in the city of Ontario, part of Southern California’s Inland Empire region. The building was constructed in 2009 and has remained vacant due to the economic downturn. The building’s exterior is finished and all mechanical systems have been installed, but its interior is unfinished. The adjacent lot is already legally entitled for a future building.
The six-story building encompasses approximately 153,000 square feet, while a future building, at 75,000 square feet, can be constructed for such uses as a chapel, library, offices, or classrooms.
By comparison, the seminary’s core campus buildings in Mill Valley are only 121,000 square feet. Thus, the new Southern California building is about 20 percent larger than the seminary’s current facilities, with room on the new site to nearly double the size of the current facilities.
“Our new campus will be very different than our former campus. It is a much more efficient use of space and resources,” Iorg said. “A seminary for the twenty-first century needs space for students, faculty, library, worship, and administration. We will soon have state-of-art facilities for all these purposes, plus the most advanced educational technology available.”
In contrasting the seminary’s new model with other campus models, Iorg raised the question, “What about other buildings like gyms, swimming pools, exercise rooms, and childcare centers?
“While there is nothing wrong with having them, they are not necessary for accomplishing our mission,” he said. “When millions of people have not yet heard the name of Jesus, our school must model frugality and simplicity to prioritize resources for global missions. Our tuition must be kept low so students can graduate without seminary-created debt. Our future resources must be focused on people and programs—not facilities.
“Our national Convention has challenged every church, association, and state convention to economize and spend more money on direct mission activity,” Iorg added. “We have an opportunity to model doing this as a national entity and we must seize the moment.”
While the new campus plan also does not include on-site student housing, Iorg indicated it is still a priority. “Not using a traditional model does not mean we will not facilitate student housing. It simply means the housing won’t be at a traditional campus location,” he said. “Our goal is facilitating student enrollment and degree completion. We will meet that goal in ways that fulfill our mission. When it comes to recreation, housing, and similar activities, we want students to be in the community close to the churches—learning to live on mission as part of their total training program with us.”
The seminary currently is finalizing plans to secure use permits, finish the building’s interior, and prepare for relocation by June 2016. “We have a reasonable timetable for this project and will be ready to move within the two-year window allotted for our transition,” Iorg said.
Impact on Students
Golden Gate’s relocation plan, as it relates to students, has received a positive review by the staff of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the seminary’s regional accrediting agency, who affirmed the transition plan for its thoroughness and focus on students.
Michael Martin, GGBTS vice president of academic affairs, said, “We have fulfilled every expectation of our regional accrediting agency and have kept faith with our students. Every student has a clear pathway to graduation, which we were committed to maintaining as part of the sale and relocation process.”
Iorg also praised the seminary’s board of trustees for their fiscal discipline in reserving significant proceeds from the sale for the seminary’s endowment.
“It took us seventy years to gather an endowment of $21 million,” he said. “Increasing our endowment by another $50 million in such a short time is amazing.”
Board chairman Steve Sheldon added, “The board is determined the property sale will dramatically improve our long-term financial health. By adding this much to our endowment, we are accomplishing that goal.”
New Seminary Name
Iorg also announced that the seminary will ask that a new name—Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention—be approved by the Convention.
Iorg acknowledged the strength of the seminary’s current name but indicated the seminary’s board of trustees had determined requesting the new name ultimately is the best course of action.
“The name Golden Gate Seminary connects us with a beautiful bridge and rich heritage in the San Francisco Bay Area. Under that name, we have sent more than eight thousand graduates across America and around the world. Our current name has served us well and helped define our identity,” Iorg said. “We have a growing sense, however, that bearing a name so closely associated with an iconic landmark won’t serve us as well when our primary campus is in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles.”
Commenting on the reasons for selecting the proposed name of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, Iorg said, “The new name connects to our heritage, frees us from geographic designations, allows for developing a more global identity, and acknowledges our Baptist distinctive.”
Iorg also underscored aspects of the seminary that will carry forward under the new name.
“Gateway Seminary will build on the foundation established over the past seventy years and on the strengths of Golden Gate Seminary. We will remain biblical, missional, and global. We will retain our passion for multi-cultural ministry and church-focused training. We will still operate five campuses, multiple CLD [Contextualized Leadership Development] centers, and a growing online program. While our name is changing, our core values and commitments are not.”
Iorg told the seminary community this will be a slow process.
“We are now taking the initial legal steps toward becoming Gateway Seminary. We are making sure we can carry forward our assets, preserve future bequests, and develop an appropriate online identity,” he said.
“We will continue to operate as Golden Gate Seminary until June 2016,” he said. “After that, if the SBC approves, we will build on the foundation of Golden Gate to establish our identity as Gateway Seminary.”
Leaving My Heart near San Francisco
Reflections from Alumni-Trustees on Selling the Mill Valley, California, Campus
by Tyler Sanders
The unanimous decision to sell its Mill Valley campus was accompanied by a profound sense of loss by some members of the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees. Four trustees who are also graduates of Golden Gate were asked for their perspectives on the decision.
When these alumni-trustees reminisced about their favorite student memories, the overwhelming response included the stunning beauty of the campus.
Rickey Scott (MDiv 1987 and DMin 2000), a retired pastor in Oregon, said, “I was enamored with the beautiful hillside setting of the campus. The view overlooking the bay is breathtaking and picturesque. The San Francisco skyline outside the student center was an ideal place for prayer, meditation, pictures, and even quite a few marriage proposals.”
Jan Springer (MATS 2008), worship and creative arts minister at North Metro Church in Thornton, Colorado, said she enjoyed escaping cold Colorado winters to take J-term classes in Mill Valley. “I was always amazed at the temperate climate, the flowers already blooming everywhere, and being able to sit outside in between classes.”
But the campus setting isn’t the only memory that alumni-trustees affectionately recall. Mike McGuffee, (MDiv 1977), ministerial leadership specialist with the California Southern Baptist Convention Healthy Church Group, fondly remembers family milestones during the time he lived on campus. “My oldest son was born while my wife and I lived at 2a Lockett Lane,” he said.
Jeff Evans (MDiv 1994), pastor of The Vine in Rancho Cucamonga, California, remembers the classroom where he learned Hebrew from professor Ken Eakins. “Dr. Eakins would have us write our Hebrew translations on the chalkboard and then ask us if we thought we had the correct answers. I would think to myself, ‘I have no clue!’ But those were really great times,” he said.
These and other memories of bygone days prompted initial hesitation as these alumni-trustees worked through the process of deciding to sell the Mill Valley campus.
“Due to my great memories as an alumnus, I felt somewhat conflicted when we first discussed the possibility of selling the campus,” Scott said. “Yet as an alumnus-trustee, I understood the enormous challenges, difficulties, and financial burdens Golden Gate was facing at that location. I sincerely believe the sale and relocation are the best options for the seminary.”
Evans said, “The student housing and campus buildings are outdated. The cost of repairing or replacing them in Marin County makes it unlikely to ever happen.”
Springer said, “During my J-term classes, I stayed in the women’s dorm for a week at a time. While there weren’t many complaints, I could tell the women who lived there all the time were just making the best of it.”
McGuffee lamented, “The housing was old and run-down when I was a student back in 1974. It hasn’t gotten any better since then.
“I took the decision very seriously because of my personal and emotional ties to the campus,” he added. “I was on the facilities crew as a student and have walked every square foot of the campus. However, as a trustee, I have a responsibility to think about the future of Golden Gate for the next fifty years. I will miss the Mill Valley campus, and even though I love it, I know the sale and relocation is the best decision in light of the circumstances.”
Though they expressed initial uncertainty and even a sense of loss at the decision to sell, these trustees have expressed virtually no regrets about selling the campus and relocating to Southern California.
“I am very confident in the decision to move forward,” Scott said. “God led very competent, dedicated, and faithful individual trustees to vote unanimously to sell the property and relocate. A 100 percent ‘yes’ vote on something of this magnitude does not just happen in Baptist life without God moving in people’s hearts.”
Springer added, “I am very confident in our decision and in the leadership direction the seminary has taken.”
Evans, a native of California, explained the source of his confidence. “I am at peace because I understood the issues we were facing,” he said.
“We could stay and fight for our property rights, spend millions of dollars and years in litigation, but what would we have gained in the end? We would still have a million dollar view, but at what cost to our Christian testimony and our property value? By selling and relocating the primary campus, Golden Gate Seminary will be able to impact the world for Christ more effectively than ever before,” he said.
While each of the alumni-trustees admitted they will miss the pristine beauty of the setting, they all see the mission as far greater than a location.
“As an alumnus and trustee, my heart, loyalty, and desire move me to want the very best for Golden Gate Seminary,” Scott said. “I would not have voted yes if I thought it would be detrimental to the advancement of the Kingdom of God, or hinder this great seminary from providing the best theological education possible. I envision Golden Gate growing in numbers because of the new campus location, cutting-edge technology, and the amenities our future world-class facility will afford.”
Among the many messages from other former trustees regarding the decision, one in particular encapsulates what most have felt as they grappled with Golden Gate’s land development problems over the years. He wrote, “I was on the board twenty years ago. The decision to sell was right back then and it’s right today. I thank God we finally got it done.”
Ben M. Skaug is vice president for institutional advancement for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and is a member of Tiburon Baptist Church in Tiburon, California. SBC LIFE contributed to this story; Tyler Sanders is coordinator for communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and is a member of Tiburon Baptist Church in Tiburon, California.