Developer purchases FBC building, sees condos

Published 11:26 pm Monday, September 10, 2007

NATCHEZ — Behind the sinking floors and peeling paint, the First Baptist Church building’s new owners see promise as condominiums.

Dream Homes, Inc., based in Merrero, La., bought the building late last month from Universal Missions, a church group from New Orleans, for roughly $78,000. To turn it into condos, it would likely take roughly $2 million more.

City officials said this summer that they had repeatedly tried to contact Universal Missions to fix the deteriorating building with no success. The city board of aldermen was looking into suing the entity.

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Dream Homes’ Natchez Project Manager Jim Thompson said Monday they had been clearing out the building for roughly a week.

Workers found everything from clothes to liquor bottles in the building, he said.

“There had been a lot of vagrancy going on,” Thompson said. “I could have started a cigarette lighter store with all the ones we found.”

The group will have to contend with a roof blown in by a storm years ago. They’ll have to haul out timbers, tear down walls and find out “what the bones are” before they can commit to a project, Thompson said.

Some of the church pews might be salvageable, Natchez contractor Ronnie Blackwell said, and he’s glad.

“I was baptized in this church as a kid,” Blackwell said, looking around at the mass of destruction that makes up the sanctuary. “We sat right over there every Sunday.”

Among the rotten boards and grass growing through the floor are signs of former elegance. Ornate tinwork on the balconies caught Blackwell’s attention.

“It’s a shame no one took care of it when it was in good shape and wasn’t rotting,” he said, shaking his head.

Now, he will try to do his part to restore the building. If the condo dream becomes reality, he said he’d love to see the sanctuary turned into a common area filled with a fountain, flowers and light.

Dream Homes bought a house on North Union Street after Hurricane Katrina hit, “to have a place to run to,” Thompson said. Soon after, they bought an antique mall on Franklin Street.