A historic Austin church wants to redevelop a block and a half of downtown into a facility for affordable community use, and it's looking for partners.
First Austin Baptist Church was founded in 1847, but the modernist building at 901 Trinity Street has been its home since 1970. It also owns the adjacent half-block and parking garage at 811 Trinity Street.
The church is looking to redevelop its 110,000-square-foot facility at Ninth and Trinity streets into "affordable space for childcare, arts venues, places of worship, and public gatherings downtown," according to a press release. It hopes to find a "philanthropist, foundation, arts patron, or other partner willing to think creatively and invest in the renovations needed" to fulfill its vision of "serving the community on a larger scale while remaining a place of worship."
Leaders "radically inclusive" First Austin considered relocating and selling the property but "felt downtown better suited the church’s commitment to social justice, racial reconciliation, and LGBTQ+ issues," according to the press release.
A block of the church's property is on one of the four public squares envisioned as civic spaces by Edwin Waller in his 1839 downtown plan.
“We looked at the offers and just didn’t want to take the money and run to a safe space to rebuild,” First Austin's Griff Martin said. “We were called to be a downtown church, so we started thinking about what downtown Austin needs today — affordable childcare, more venues for live music and visual arts, and more public spaces for people of all faiths to join together in new ways."
First Austin's facilities are home to the 150-seat Black Box Theater, which hosts around 30 shows a year, and businesses such as Book People, SXSW, and Alamo Drafthouse have rented its 1,000-person sanctuary for large events. A German-immersion preschool leases the church's bottom floor.
First Austin is also “in conversation with another downtown congregation that’s considering selling its property and co-locating with First Austin," said Greg Milligan, one of the project leaders. The church wants retain part of the church sanctuary but is "open to making major changes to the building as well as selling a partial interest in the full block and a half to individuals and organizations with aligned visions and goals," according to the release.