Sunday, August 8, 2004

Florence Baptist ready to grow

Church has raised money, hopes to break ground in fall

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

FLORENCE - Florence Baptist Church has been at the corner of Main Street and Dixie Highway for 149 years, but it will soon move on.

A $10 million church - about 31/2 miles south of the current one, but still in Florence - will be built on 67 acres off Mount Zion Road, just west of Interstate 75.

The church bought the land three years ago for $3.1 million, and it hopes to break ground this fall.

"We were just desperate for more space," said Tim Alexander, senior pastor for 19 years. "We're uncomfortably crowded and real anxious and excited to get moving on it."

The church has been at Main and Dixie since 1855, with the current brick-and-stone building constructed in 1929.

The congregation has more than doubled to 2,300 members since the mid-1980s, which Alexander believes makes it the largest of the nearly 100 Baptist churches in Northern Kentucky.

About 1,000 people attend the three services each Sunday in a sanctuary that seats 600. On Easter Sunday, total attendance is close to 2,000.

Plans for the new church have not been finalized, but Alexander said it will be about 90,000 square feet - almost double the size of the current building.

Seating capacity will be about 1,500, allowing room to grow. It will be one level with a contemporary design.

"But we do plan to mark it with a big steeple," said Alexander.

A capital campaign that began about 11/2 years ago has yielded almost $5.4 million in pledges from members for the new sanctuary.

Bill and Gayle Bixler of Florence contributed to the campaign. They joined the church 31 years ago, when they moved here from Detroit.

"I'm thrilled. I can't wait for it," said Gayle Bixler.

"We'll have a lot more room and should reach more people given the new location."

The rest of the money will come from the sale of the 50,000-square-foot church and two other buildings the church owns down the street - a 20,000-square-foot activity center and 13,800-square-foot retail shopping center that is rented to businesses.

Each property sits on about three acres. Listed through Huff Commercial Group, the asking prices are $2.65 million for the church, $2.8 million for the activity center and $1.2 million for the retail center.

"The trigger for us to start moving dirt is for the sale of one of those pieces of property," said Alexander.

"We could start without the sale, but we're hoping and praying that we can at least get one of them sold soon."

Alexander said that there have been no offers on any of the properties, but interest in them has picked up during the last couple of months.

Once ground is broken on the new church, construction will take about 18 months.



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