Editor’s Note: At its June 12, 2017, meeting, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention will consider and, based on its February 2017 action on this matter, is expected to approve the following recommendation from the Executive Committee officers. Should it do so, it will subsequently present the recommendation to the messengers of the Convention for their approval during this year’s annual meeting in Phoenix.
The recommendation is made against a backdrop of circumstances and factors that naturally raise speculation and curiosity. To better understand this situation, SBC LIFE asked SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page some questions. His answers are below.
SBCLIFE: It is obvious from reading the recommendation that its subject matter is the SBC Building in Nashville, Tennessee. For those who may have never visited it, or perhaps don’t know anything about it, can you tell us a little about it?
Dr. Frank S. Page: Certainly. The SBC Building is a seven-story, 170,000 square foot office building that sits on the corner of 9th Avenue and Commerce Street in downtown Nashville. It was built for about $8 million in 1984–1985 on land donated to the SBC by the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay). It was designed to house eight SBC entities—The Christian Life Commission, the Education Commission, the Executive Committee, the Seminary External Education Division of the SBC seminaries, the Historical Commission, The Southern Baptist Commission on the American Baptist Theological Seminary, the Southern Baptist Foundation, and The Stewardship Commission.
As a result of a restructuring of the Convention in the mid-1990s, the building occupants decreased to five, two of which relate directly to the seminaries. Also, somewhat in response to that restructuring, the building was completely remodeled to accommodate the new occupants, which were (and still are) the Executive Committee, the Southern Baptist Foundation, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the SBC Historical Library and Archives, and Seminary Extension. The Council of Seminary Presidents also maintains a conference area in the building.
In addition, the building has an auditorium, meeting rooms, broadcast-capable sound and video studios, a multi-level parking garage, and other typical office building accoutrements. It is directly across the street and south of the former headquarters of LifeWay Christian Resources, which was sold last year in conjunction with their relocation.
SBCLIFE: What are you asking the messengers to approve?
Page: In simplest terms, we are actually asking the messengers to do two things: 1) to reaffirm former Convention actions designating the Executive Committee as its fully authorized designee to exercise its best judgment on behalf of the Convention if any acceptable offers to buy the SBC Building are forthcoming, and 2) to document and approve the allocation of any net proceeds among the entities which occupy the building, should a sale occur.
SBCLIFE: Do the entities occupying the building concur with the percentages shown in the recommendation?
Page: Yes. I have spoken with the presidents of all of those entities and have reviewed the documentation that shows their respective contributions and interests, and they have each assured me that they are in agreement with the percentages as shown.
SBCLIFE: Why are you asking the Convention to approve this recommendation now?
Page: LifeWay’s sale generated considerable interest in the SBC Building property by real estate developers and others, which caused us to research what would have to be done if an acceptable offer was received.
When we explained that we felt the most conservative course would be to obtain approval from Convention messengers, and that doing so was only possible each June, the possibility that delay might prevent or postpone a sale became obvious. Additionally, our research indicated that the Executive Committee had long ago been designated by the Convention as the sole determiner of appropriate action in regard to use and disposition of the SBC Building.
However, we felt that the other entities occupying the building needed to come to these conclusions on their own and that the Convention should be apprised. After all, the work of those entities is every bit as important as the work of the Executive Committee, and planning for the future is every bit as important to them as it is to us. Also, title to the SBC Building property is held by the Executive Committee in trust for the benefit of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In our thinking (and our legal counsel concurs) this distinction from the sale of SBC entity properties, such as LifeWay’s, makes Convention approval essential.
SBCLIFE: Have you found another suitable place to locate?
Page: No, nor have we looked. The flurry of interest by developers has subsided somewhat, so no firm offers are on the table. But if we receive one in a month or two, we would not want to be in a position of having to tell the prospective buyer that they would have to wait until June of 2018 for us to seek affirmation from the Convention about our ability and authority to execute a sale.
SBCLIFE: What factors would play into a determination of whether an offer is adequate or acceptable?
Page: To be blunt, we are really not interested in any offers that would merely be “adequate.” Only offers that would render us capable of improving our situation substantially would be considered acceptable.
The bottom line of all of this is stewardship! If we were ever to sell the building, we would want to assure that we receive an amount that would allow us to not only relocate to a less expensive location, but also to subsidize a part of the Executive Committee ministry so we could lower our Cooperative Program allocation once again. We would love to be able to send more money to reach the lost and engage all unreached people groups for Christ.
SBCLIFE: In the current building, are there factors that cry out for improvement?
Page: Though there are none I would characterize exactly that way, the building does have some age on it. Nevertheless, it sits on a highly valuable piece of ground that could be leveraged in ways advantageous to ongoing ministry funding.
On the other hand, the building suits our needs well at present, so remaining in the building for another decade or more would not be a source of disappointment.
Tentative Proposed Executive Committee Recommendation #9
“That the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommend to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, that the Convention authorize the Executive Committee to continue studying the advisability of a sale of the SBC Building, and to sell the property upon such terms and conditions, and at such a time, if any, as the Executive Committee may hereafter approve.
“Should a sale occur, the net proceeds of the sale after the deduction of all costs of the sale (including reimbursement of the Executive Committee’s costs arising out of the feasibility study), shall be distributed in the pro rata shares set out below to those corporate entities still occupying the building, in keeping with the Document of Title, Principles of Ownership and Operation of New SBC Building, and Document of Operations agreed upon by the entities at the time of the occupancy of the building, and the capital contributions made by each of them when the building was constructed as listed on pages 35–37 in the 1984 SBC Annual.
“Pro rata shares of the net sale proceeds:
“1. Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention holding the original interest of The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the corporation simply having been renamed. (a 14% interest);
“2. Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, holding its original interest and, by mergers, the original interest of the Education Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the interest of the Stewardship Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. (a 56% interest);
“3. Council of Seminary Presidents, holding the original interests of the Historical Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and that of Seminary External Education. (a 26% interest, comprised of 10% for Seminary External Education and 16% for the Historical Commission);
“4. Southern Baptist Foundation. (a 4% interest).”
(Note: The agreement of the present occupants of the SBC Building as to their respective percentage interests supports their ability and joint desire to share space in a building in the future. The close proximity of their respective offices in both this SBC Building [at 9th and Commerce] and the former SBC Building [on James Robertson Parkway] has proved to be economic, mutually beneficial, and enjoyable. Their being in the same building has also served their joint constituents well. While these facts do not dictate the future, they do argue for the preference of being together again in another building under arrangements they, and perhaps other Southern Baptist organizations, may find to be mutually agreeable.)