Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

First Baptist Building OK'd for Sale to Amelia Arts Group

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

First Baptist Building OK'd for Sale to Amelia Arts Group

Article excerpt

Byline: Amelia A. Hart, Nassau Neighbors staff writer

Now home to one of Fernandina Beach's oldest congregations, the First Baptist Church may have a second life as a mecca for the arts.

The church's congregation has agreed to sell its facilities on Alachua Street to the Amelia Arts Centre, a newly formed non-profit organization. The congregation in turn plans to build a new, larger church on Eighth Street.

Amelia Arts Centre will turn the church's property, which includes about 30,000 square feet of space in three buildings and an empty lot used for parking, into an arts and conference center.

Under the terms of the agreement, the arts organization will share the facilities with the congregation until its new church opens, likely sometime in 2006.

To complete the deal, Amelia Arts Centre board of directors member Diane Bradstock-Jones said the organization will need to raise $2.5 million. The group has until the end of December to raise the major portion of the funds.

"This is an ambitious plan, but a realistic plan. We can meet it," Bradstock-Jones said. "We've had enormous support from all parts of the community."

Among those supporters are the members of First Baptist, which approved the agreement last month.

"It really was an answer to a prayer that the building, the facility, is going to a group of this kind," church member Melba Whitaker said.

The move to Eighth Street will mark another chapter in First Baptist's long history. The congregation was organized in 1859, and its first church was built around 1860 at Fourth and Calhoun streets. It was destroyed by fire in 1887. A wood-frame church was built in 1888 at Fifth and Alachua streets. It was razed to make way for the current brick sanctuary, built in 1925.

"With our congregation moving to a new building, we were concerned this beautiful facility could be taken away from the community," the Rev. …

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