First Baptist Church of Asheville is poised to become the heart of a thriving new downtown neighborhood.
On Monday, March 6, the Deacons voted to advance a bold proposal to the congregation. On May 1, 2022, the cngregation discussed and approved this concept. This proposal and new conversation brings much hope for the future of our congregation and for downtown Asheville.
The Deacons’ vote follows five years of prayer, investigation, assessment, and numerous due diligence actions led by the Campus Master Plan Committee (CMP). (Members: Charlie Glazener (co-chair), David Hart (co-chair), Will Arledge, Kirstin Austin, Randall Barnett, Woody Bollinger, Ron Butler, Mary Cunningham, Nancy Flippin, Carole Martin, Ginny Morris Staff Support: David Blackmon, Tommy Bratton, Mack Dennis Former members: Debbie Miller, Bradley Hines) The recommendation from the CMP and Deacons is to pursue a proposal for a two-phase development that would see a ‘holistic village’ emerge on our 7+ acre campus with the church right in the heart of it all.
This development would transform our city block into a flourishing new neighborhood, with a missional focus on affordable housing, childcare, wellness, hunger relief, the arts, and small business opportunities. Our church also has an opportunity to discern how revenues generated from the project can support an array of missional opportunities for our community and congregation.
As you review this information, please keep in mind that it is a preliminary concept. At this point in the conceptual process, there are several possibilities for our shared space, and it would be premature to speculate on the final plans.
But first and foremost, why have we undertaken this journey?
In 2018, the Deacons issued a charge to a dozen of your fellow church members (the CMP Committee) to…
1. Study the future of the One Oak facility and the options of renovation and/or additional development of the site;
2. Explore new ways to meet Asheville’s needs by collaborating with community partners.
3. Increase revenues to help sustain FBCA’s long-term mission outreach objectives, including upgrades to facilities we share with the community.
4. Expand parking options.
As the initial evaluation began, we learned that our next-door neighbor, the Asheville branch of the YMCA of Western North Carolina, was already discerning development options for their downtown property. Subsequent discussions and dreaming resulted in a cooperative partnership between our organizations, culminating in this extraordinary plan to address the needs of the church, the YMCA, and downtown Asheville. The plan, which is consistent with community goals identified in the Living Asheville Plan, holds the potential for both the church and the Y to expand our respective missions to the community through affordable housing and other community-minded initiatives. The plan allows our congregation to respond to Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and to seek the common good of our beloved hometown.
Before you prayerfully consider how you might learn more about how this work became the proposal now before us, here are a few key points to pique your interest.
- Affordable housing is a central, missional part of the plan, and, if approved and built, housing for several hundred families would be a centerpiece of this planned community/village
- FBCA incurs little risk and no permanent debt during the development
- FBCA would sell just 1/2 acre from our 7+ acre property
- Two parcels on either side of our facilities (adjacent to the atrium entrance and sanctuary entrance) would go under a long-term, income-generating ground lease, with potential over time to achieve sustainable long-term revenue growth to help us address our own facility needs and further expand our ministry programs
- The well respected and experienced Furman Company of Greenville, SC, would be our partner to manage the development and leasing activities.
The project, as it is currently proposed, will take approximately seven years to fully realize and is generally thought of in two phases.
- The property beyond the current first row of parking near the Atrium entrance could be redeveloped to include a new facility for our partners at the YMCA, a parking deck, office and retail space and housing.
- On the 1/2 acre sold, a commercial structure that would include significant housing could be constructed under approved uses already allowed by the City.
PHASE II (which would begin only after the new facilities for the YMCA have been completed and are available for their occupancy)
- Includes development of property beyond the Sanctuary entrance down through and including the current YMCA property.
- Features the majority of affordable housing units, two office buildings, and retail (possibly including entrepreneurial and business incubator spaces), wrapping around the base of a second parking garage and green space in a walkable, village setting.
Bricks and mortar are only one part of the overall plan. In our assessment of the possibilities, we have discovered that the Y and FBCA are effectively kindred spirits in ministry. We have several common interests that could be combined or expanded to provide new, life-changing programs. These might include childcare, hunger relief, the Academy for the Arts, and the proposed First Shine Learning Center. We believe the opportunities to partner with other downtown churches to share resources and programming can reach a broad swath of our historically disenfranchised and marginalized neighbors.
So, you can see why we are using words like bold and historic, and why it is so important to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the steps forward. If approved and built, this project would be the single largest infusion of affordable housing ever proposed and built in our city. The use of space would enhance the lives of our nearest neighbors and would be a truly affordable residential community, centrally located, and designed for residents to live, work, and enjoy all that downtown Asheville has to offer.
For nearly 29 years our One Oak Committee has served as a faithful steward of what has proven to be an invaluable asset for First Baptist’s congregation and missions. However, based on the overwhelming cost of renovating the nearly 50-year old office building, we believe that now is the time to explore what is possible on our property for a strong and sustainable future. Our One Oak tenants have been our financial supporters and friends. As a part of this process, we will work to help them transition to different space, if and when that time occurs, and will welcome them back with open arms once space is available if they so desire.
We encourage you to step out in faith and imagine our beloved and beautiful sanctuary right in the midst of a new community of residents, workers, shoppers, walkers, and visitors. What we see is a restored and thriving community, one that is akin to the title and message of Samuel Wells’ inspiring book, A Future That’s Bigger Than the Past; Towards the Renewal of the Church.
Please join us in praying for God’s continued guidance as we move toward this decision. Know that your engagement and participation is absolutely vital to the work that lies ahead.