SUWANEE, Ga. – The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has entered into a revolutionary ground lease deal with private investors to construct new facilities for Baptist Collegiate Ministries at five state universities with the possibility of expanding to additional campuses in the future.
“Our BCMs are doing crucial ministry, and we must provide them with the tools they need,” said Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. “The students on these campuses are the future leaders of our state and nation, and we’re committed to reach them with the Gospel. Our BCMs are our best hope for doing that.”
Georgia-based Covenant Capital Investors would lease BCM land at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, and the University of West Georgia in Carrollton where they would spend $100 million to construct multi-story buildings that would also provide space for student housing, cafes, gathering areas, and more.
The project will be done at no cost to Georgia Baptists.
“This is an amazing opportunity to replace some of our aging BCM buildings with brand new facilities,” Hammond said. “The investors will cover all the construction costs. Best of all, our BCMs will have prime space in buildings where students live and congregate. Our BCM space will be in high traffic areas. This fits perfectly with our strategy and will ensure that BCM ministry will continue on campuses across Georgia for generations to come.”
The state Mission Board signed the ground lease agreement on Wednesday (Feb. 1). The Georgia Baptist Administration Committee and the Executive Committee had previously given their approval to proceed. Hammond began discussing the possibility with investors and Georgia Baptist leaders shortly after he became executive director in 2018. The idea, he said, appears to be a win-win for everyone involved, especially the BCMs that will now have new facilities.
“All of our BCM buildings need substantial work,” said David Melber, the Mission Board’s chief operating officer. “At the University of Georgia, for example, the BCM building needs a new roof, a now boiler system, and many other updates that have been estimated at more than a $2 million. All of these buildings have fulfilled their life expectancy as they collectively average more than 65 years old.”
Campus missionaries are excited about getting new facilities.
At the University of Georgia, Tommy Fountain Jr. said upkeep on the aging BCM building has been both expensive and time-consuming.
“When you sign up to be a campus minister, you sign up to be a missionary on campus, not a landlord,” he said. “Our building at UGA was clearly beyond repair, so we’re excited to see the commitment from the GBMB to get us a new space that can be leveraged for reaching the campus with the Gospel and connecting students with local churches. “We’re also really excited about our space being right in the middle of where students will be living.”
Fountain added that the arrangement will free up money for ministry.
“To know that there is now freedom to have that money also go to our operational budgets and really impact ministry on the ground should be encouraging to all churches across the state that the money they give to the Cooperative Program and to the GBMB is being spent more and more each passing day directly on the mission field,” he said.
Fountain said the BCMs will be without buildings for 24 to 30 months.
“We’re looking forward to going mobile, as it will force our students outside of the comfortability that the building provided and allow us to really increase the amount of time we spend in the heart of campus each week,” he said. “I believe the next 24-30 months could very well be a catalyst for increased engagement and evangelism with parts of campus we haven’t normally been able to impact.”
Georgia State campus missionary Teresa Royall said the building project is much needed on her campus, too.
“We at the BCM at Georgia State are pleased that we will have an updated building that will attract more students on campus,” she said. “Being part of a multi-use facility provides enhanced exposure to students housed in the new building so we can build relationships and share the Gospel with students around the world.”
Tim Oliver, pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church in Milledgeville, who serves as chairman the Georgia Baptist Administration Committee, said the proposal “has the potential to revolutionize the way Georgia Baptists impact college campuses across the state with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Shifting facility maintenance responsibilities and expenses to the investment group will allow the Mission Board to invest a far greater percentage of BCM time and monies directly into ministry endeavors,” he said. “All of this while providing BCM campus ministries with state-of-the-art and intentionally designed ministry space. I believe this will prove to be a win-win-win.”
Melber said the deal puts BCMs in a stronger position to minister on the selected campuses for decades to come while saving Georgia Baptists hundreds of thousands of dollars year in maintenance and operational costs.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity,” Melber said. “It’s a great deal for Georgia Baptists, for the investors, and for the universities. Everyone wins.”
Covenant Capital Investors will pay the Mission Board $3.5 million upfront for the land leases.
Melber said the transaction will provide attractive facilities for the BCMs, enabling them to better serve their campuses. He said the Mission Board will retain ownership of all the land and will have “a high level of ongoing influence over the future uses of each site and the activities allowed on them.”
The Mission Board also will participate in the design of the new buildings and be the anchor tenant in them.
Melber said the BCMs will get new facilities “without the economic investment, risk, or obligations that might otherwise be required.”
The Mission Board will pay “well below market rent” for space in the buildings, but that rent will be more than offset by the lease payments it receives from Covenant Capital Investors.
“The project eliminates immediately the ongoing operating costs and capital expenditures for old and obsolete buildings, plus senior leadership time, and this excludes significant deferred maintenance issues and potential remediation exposure that easily exceeds more than $4 million,” Melber said.
“The aggregate economic benefit to the Mission Board exceeds the current value of the properties by four to five times, and the project provides a much-needed structural solution to uniquely position the campus BCMs for the next generations.”
By Roger Alford/Christian Index