Church’s plan to sell land, preschool raises concerns
As congregations continue declining, and costs continue rising alongside property values, more church officials are looking to excess land as a much-needed funding source.
Members of the Pasadena Community Church (PCC) overwhelmingly approved selling 5.77 acres of land on its sprawling west St. Petersburg campus to a developer. However, a group of parents hopes to stop the sale and save an 82-year-old preschool building from the wrecking ball.
While their online petition has garnered 387 votes in two weeks, Rev. Corey Jones said nothing short of a $10 million donation would stop him from doing what he believes is best for the church’s future.
“There’s no one else that has the responsibility and the obligation to care for that property and to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the church’s ministry, other than the members of the church,” said Jones. “We’re not just looking to make money off of this.”
Jones said PCC needs $8-10 million to complete a series of projects and maintain operations and programs at current levels, and he expects to receive that for the land. He said roughly 60% of the revenue would go towards a complete renovation of the historic Hamilton Building, which opened in 1925.
One lot is vacant, save for a soccer field, and the PCC Preschool has occupied the other since 1951.
Jones noted the vacant land is platted for 10 parcels while the school property encompasses 13 parcels. Although it is still early in the process, and church officials are in no rush to complete the sale, stakeholders believe most of the land would feature single-family homes.
He has also considered “some nice townhomes” and said someone proposed an art school. He stressed that a development plan’s fit would outweigh the highest bid.
Located at 227 70th St. S., the first Pasadena Church opened in 1925. It experienced exponential growth in the following decades, as leaders acquired more land and constructed several new buildings.
“But now, with less worship attendance and less membership, you’re going to have less resources and finances to care for the long-term maintenance of facilities and buildings,” Jones added. “We’re not living in the heyday of the American church, where just about anybody and everybody was at a church – it was just which one.”
As part of the United Methodist system, PCC’s leadership must adhere to strict policies and methods when making decisions. Jones said the congregation voted on a similar measure about 14 years ago, and the initiative failed.
However, he believes members now realize the increased need to downsize and raise capital, and in October 2022, 81% of the congregation voted in favor of the sale.
“We’re doing all we can to hold all these things together,” Jones explained. “To have functioning facilities that meet the mission and vision we have, and to provide adequate space to worship … and for a preschool and care for children.”
While most PCC members support moving the preschool into a remodeled Life Enrichment Center (LEC) on campus, many stakeholders are fighting to preserve the land and current building.
Amy Possidente, a PCC member and preschool parent, is part of that growing group. She expressed her dismay that church officials held a vote before “fully and sufficiently consulting and meeting with key stakeholders – including parents, guardians, teachers, the preschool director and neighbors,” as stated on the petition.
She noted her parents wed at PCC, she grew up around the campus and that she “loves the church.” She also called the preschool “beloved” and worries about losing its history.
“It’s magical,” Possidente added. “And one of the things that makes it this way is the green space. There are trees and there is beauty, which one person described to me as a necessary part of a child’s world.”
She said city officials advised that the church’s facilities could be eligible for local and national historic registry. Possidente and other concerned parents are exploring that measure, but she is unsure if there is enough time to complete the process, or if it would be successful.
The PCC Building oversight Committee announced Feb. 5 that they selected a Colliers and Coldwell Banker team to list and broker the sale. According to the announcement, the realtors are “currently researching what advantages the City of St. Petersburg may give to the property” due to its proximity to the SunRunner route.
Possidente said she and other neighbors worry the development will detract from the area’s character.
Committee stipulations include that the realtors will sell the soccer field as residential property; they will solicit offers rather than offering an asking price; the property will not feature “for sale” signage; and they must communicate that deed restrictions prohibit liquor stores and adult entertainment businesses, among others.
“The preschool is financially successful,” Possidente said. “I think there’s a lot of feeling about, ‘why does the preschool have to be the scapegoat here in this movement?”
The answer, Jones said, is the cost.
Not only does the church need to sell both properties to fund redevelopment and maintain operations, but he noted the preschool – which includes nearly 20 air conditioning units – is showing its age. The LEC is the church’s newest building, and Jones said he would ensure the children’s safety and security amid its administrative offices, food bank and thrift mall.
He wants those opposed to the sale and development to know their concerns are valid and recognized. He also realizes the significant changes impact surrounding stakeholders and asks them to trust the extensive and deliberate process.
“And really try to be a voice to help,” Jones added. “Because if we don’t do something, we won’t be a vital congregation that is able to provide and care for the community.”
February 17, 2023at8:19 pm
Years ago, my brother-in-law an Episcopal priest, in Pennsylvania, designated a percentage of the property that they held to build senior housing that shared the same piece of property with their preschool. A beautiful garden built between the two that had playground equipment for the preschoolers. That partnership of senior living, and the preschool brought richness to the lives of all and strengthen the congregation.