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Miss. church’s relocation aided by property sale to neighboring casin


BILOXI, Miss. (BP)–The congregation of 154-year-old First Baptist Church, Biloxi, has voted to sell its property to neighboring Beau Rivage casino and resort after nearly five fruitless years of attempting to market the beachfront property so the church can begin building at its new location off Interstate 10.
“We certainly would have preferred a less-controversial purchaser, but that did not materialize with a single offer from 1994 [when the congregation voted to move] until the present,” said pastor Frank Gunn.
Although speculators could have made a “straw” — or indirect — purchase and then transferred the property to the casino, Gunn said the church’s leadership believed such approaches lacked integrity.
“We decided to deal directly with Beau Rivage,” Gunn explained.
Gunn said although some members will undoubtedly leave the church over the sale, the majority of the congregation is looking forward to better serving the Biloxi community at the new location.
“We feel there is going to be phenomenal growth in the new location compared to the difficulty of holding our own or even going down in our present location. This move will enable us to reach many more people as we build today for tomorrow,” Gunn said.
According to a formal statement released by the church, “After careful prayer and consideration, the First Baptist Church of Biloxi voted overwhelmingly in 1994 to relocate for a variety of reasons, some of which are as follows:
— “After considering the cost of renovating our present facility in order to bring it up to code and satisfy our needs, we felt building a new facility would be a better use of our resources.
— “We were essentially land locked at our present location with little or no opportunity to expand. (Property owned by Beau Rivage already hems in the church on the south and east sides, Gunn said.)
— “The demographics of our area were changing with the advent of gaming/gambling in that it was becoming more commercial and less residential with more people moving northward and away from our facility.
— “We desired to position our facility in a location whereby we could meet the future needs of our congregation as well as the city of Biloxi and surrounding areas. With the [city’s] recent annexation of 34 square miles, we will be strategically located in the center of the city and poised to serve the needs of a rapidly expanding community.”
On August 22, the statement reports, the church congregation voted by an 80 percent majority to accept the Beau Rivage offer.
“Our plans have been made with much prayer over the past nine years,” the statement recounts. “Throughout this process the Lord has directed our steps. As best we can discern with hearts that seek to please him, this step is further direction from him.”
The statement noted the church congregation will continue to meet at the old location for about 18 months while the new facility is being built.
Present state law prohibits gambling on properties Beau Rivage acquires around the casino; the properties will likely be used for parking, hotel accommodations, administration or other activities.
The new location on Interstate 10 will be the Biloxi church’s fourth home.