JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–The Mississippi Baptist Convention Board has voted to move forward on a developer’s $18 million offer to purchase the property that served as the home of Gulfshore Baptist Assembly before being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Developer Douglas Johnson of Mandeville, La., submitted a letter of intent on behalf of NewTrac East LLC, to purchase the property for a multi-use, multi-million-dollar project he plans to name Gulfshore Point. The offer from Johnson comes after the convention board’s executive committee on Sept. 24 rejected all offers made during an open bidding process that brought disappointing results.
Johnson, who was not one of the bidders, contacted convention board officials several weeks later and inquired about the status of the property.
Gary Richardson, convention board president and pastor of North Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, said of the process, “The way this offer came about clearly shows the movement of [God’s] hand…. I just feel honored to be able to watch this happen and see where He takes us from here.”
Johnson, meanwhile, stated, “We believe our goals for the property are in line with the values of the convention board for stewardship of the land.”
Messengers to the 2006 annual meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention voted to accept a post-Katrina special committee’s recommendation to sell the property, with the stipulation that the new owners would not build a casino or any gambling-related businesses on the property.
Johnson emphasized in a meeting with the convention board’s executive committee prior to the board’s Dec. 4 vote that he agreed with the no-gambling stipulation and said 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 said.
Jim Futral, the convention board’s executive director-treasurer, said it has been “a long and tedious process” in selling the property. “At times it looked like nothing was happening and all of the time good things were happening from the hand of God,” Futral said. “The Lord is leading and Mississippi Baptists, the convention board and the executive committee have consistently desired to be sensitive to following where He is leading us. The events of the last few weeks are a few more steps in walking with God to accomplish His purposes among us. We will continue to seek Him and seek to follow as He guides us.”
Henderson Point, where the Gulfshore assembly had been located on the eastern shoreline of the Bay of St. Louis, was settled in the mid-1800s by local attorney John Henderson, who served in both the Mississippi Senate and the U.S. Senate and whose name was eventually attached to the property. By the turn of the 20th century, a resort named The Inn by the Sea had been opened there. A few years prior to World War II, the federal government purchased the property from the resort owners and built the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Basic School. The training facility was closed shortly after World War II ended. Mississippi Baptists purchased the property from the federal government in 1958 and named it Gulfshore Baptist Assembly.
Mississippi Baptists utilized the Merchant Marine barracks and other buildings for the assembly until Hurricane Camille wiped it out in 1969. A state-of-the-art facility with hurricane-resistant features was rebuilt on the property, but Hurricane Katrina’s massive winds and waves destroyed everything except the main building’s superstructure.
William H. Perkins Jr. is editor of The Baptist Record, newspaper of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.