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Developer drops Gulfshore offer

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. (BP)–The proposed developer of the former Gulfshore Baptist Assembly has dropped an offer to purchase the beachfront property, citing a halting regulatory process and the declining economy.

The former 34-acre conference center on St. Louis Bay, which is owned by the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, was wiped out by a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A committee of Mississippi Baptists subsequently recommended that the facilities not be rebuilt and the property be sold.

NewTrac East LLC, the development company, which made an $18 million offer for the property in late 2007, notified the state convention in January of its intentions to withdraw after the Harrison County Planning Commission twice delayed a vote on regulations that would have allowed the development to proceed.

Jim Futral, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, reported to the board in a letter, “When the [planning commission] finalizes its Smart Code regulations and if the buyer’s finances fall back into place, he may still be the purchaser and developer of Henderson Point.”

Futral noted, “We are not discounting the point that he wants to purchase the property, and if presented with a check tomorrow, I would be inclined to accept it.”

Futral wrote that he believes the planning commission is “working toward the adoption of zoning regulations that will enhance the Mississippi Gulf Coast and potentially make Henderson Point even more attractive to prospective buyers.”

“We … will keep the lines of communication open with local officials,” Futral wrote.

Developer Doluglas Johnson of Mandeville, La., on behalf of the development company, had agreed to a stipulation adopted during the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s 2006 annual meeting that no casino or gambling-related businesses would be built on the property.

Johnson emphasized in a meeting with the convention board’s executive committee prior to the board’s December 2007 vote that he agreed with the no-gambling stipulation and that he planned to preserve the history of the property in special ways, including construction of a chapel to commemorate its time as Gulfshore Baptist Assembly.

“We want to build a wholesome, family friendly development. We have no intention of building a casino on the property,” Johnson had said.

Mickey Dalrymple, president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention and pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Columbus, said he was disappointed that the sale did not go through “because I know how many hours have been spent by various groups in prayer, planning and negotiations leading up to this point.”

“However, I am also excited to see what God has in store for the future regarding the sale of this property,” Dalrymple told The Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi convention. “This is His land, and it will all turn out for His glory. Our task is to remain faithful as Mississippi Baptists in seeking His will.”

Hal Bates, chairman of the MBCB executive committee and pastor of First Baptist Church in Collinsville, told the Record, “Whether we sell the property later, or God opens another door for ministry, His will is our greatest desire. It is always exciting when God directs His people.”

Before Henderson Point served as Mississippi Baptists’ beachfront assembly, the property was the site of a popular local resort at the turn of the 20th century and then was the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in the World War II era.

The convention board purchased the property in the 1950s at a federal government auction, renamed it Gulfshore Baptist Assembly and utilized the existing structures until Hurricane Camille leveled it in 1969. It was rebuilt in the early 1970s and suffered damage in several hurricanes before it was destroyed again, this time by Hurricane Katrina.
Adapted from reporting by William H. Perkins Jr., editor of The Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

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