Smyrna approves land purchase deal with First Baptist Church, will host public sessions about aquatics center

The exterior of Smyrna City Hall, a red brick building with four large columns

by Arielle Robinson

Smyrna City Council voted 6-1 Monday evening to a deal with Smyrna First Baptist Church that would have the church sell its current, approximately nine-acre property to the city. In turn, the church would subsequently purchase land from the city to build a new church.

That plus more occurred at the meeting, which was hosted once again in Smyrna Community Center’s Magnolia Room. 

Meetings started being held back at city hall last month after repairs were completed, but a water heater recently burst on the second floor of city hall, causing water damage.

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Mayor Derek Norton said meetings will be back in city hall in November around Thanksgiving.

Deal with Smyrna First Baptist Church

Councilwoman Susan Wilkinson was the only city council member to oppose the city deal with Smyrna First Baptist.

The church, currently on Church Street a few minutes from the community center, will sell its approximately nine-acre property to the Downtown Smyrna Development Authority (DDA) for $15.8 million. The church will then purchase 5.5 acres of land owned by the DDA from the DDA at Atlanta Road for $3.3 million and build a new facility there.

Smyrna First Baptist Church hopes to put its new church in a visible and busy place downtown to spread its message. It would relocate between the Reed House and SouthState Bank.

Also, according to an information booklet the church released a few months ago, Smyrna First Baptist is in $1.6 million of debt and will use the sale to pay that off.

The city wants to use the acquired nine acres to continue developing its downtown.

Before the city could approve the vote, the church’s congregation had to vote on it.

On August 27, the city announced on Facebook that the congregation voted in favor of the proposal.

In the draft copy of the memorandum of understanding between the DDA and Smyrna First Baptist, which begins on page 181 in the hyperlink, the document states some of the following:

  • “DDA shall ground lease (the ‘New Ground Lease’) the entire Smyrna First Property (and all improvements) back to Smyrna First;”
  • “The New Ground Lease shall be for 3 years;”
  • “The New Ground Lease shall be assignable by Smyrna First to a subsidiary and the subsidiary shall be entitled to sublease the Smyrna First Property in its sole and absolute discretion;”
  • “City shall not be entitled to use, request, or encumber the Smyrna First Property during the entire term of the New Ground Lease; and”
  • “City shall provide for the use of a field and courts sufficient to accommodate an outdoor recreational programming and ministry of Smyrna First (at no cost to Smyrna First), consistent with how Smyrna First has used City fields and courts for such programming and ministry in the past (for generations).”

Norton said at a public information meeting in June that the historic stone chapel, in its place since 1924, would be saved and repurposed.

The memorandum states that, “At Closing, DDA shall execute a restrictive covenant declaring that the currently existing original Church Chapel (the ‘Chapel’) shall be preserved and maintained by the DDA in a manner that is generally consistent with its current condition, at DDA’s sole cost and expense. Except during the term of the New Ground Lease in favor of Smyrna First (which shall mean, ipso facto, that Smyrna First controls the Chapel and its uses (as well as the remainder of the Smyrna First Property)), the parties agree that the restrictive covenant shall not limit the use of the Chapel.”

Additionally, the document states that before the church’s new facility is built, the city will pay for a newly installed electric traffic signal and any lane improvements required by the county or city on Atlanta Road near the southern end of the 5.5-acre property currently owned by the DDA.

The memorandum also states that at any time, the church can “unilaterally” and “in its sole and absolute discretion” terminate the new ground lease.

At Monday’s city council meeting, Norton made a similar comment about the timing of this deal to that which he made in June’s information session.

“This has been a discussion that has been slowly evolving over time,” the mayor said. “Nothing rushed about it, and should this agreement be approved, and when the contract is done, there’ll be a long period of time for public input and developer eyes on that property to see what is possible there from the city side. And we’re very excited about the church’s continued mission not far from our downtown.”

Norton said over the summer that if the deal went through, Smyrna First Baptist would stay at its current location for two years while its new church is constructed. The mayor also previously said that although he did not know specifically what would go in the newly-acquired nine acres, during those two years, citizens will have a chance to weigh in.

Retail, restaurants, parking, and greenspace were all options mentioned at the previous public information session.

Click here to read about the city’s public information session in June, where the city and Smyrna First Baptist Senior Pastor Jeff Pennington explained the deal in more detail and took audience questions.

Public input sessions on the aquatic center and tennis and pickleball facility

On September 26, the city will start hosting public input sessions on the proposed aquatic center and tennis and pickleball facility. 

Residents can drop in to the community center at a designated time to look at designs for them and provide feedback. The city will also provide online surveys starting close to the first session for residents who cannot physically come out.

The aquatic center was to be on Atlanta Road, but the new church is going there instead.

More details, like location, will come out in the near future.

The in-person public input sessions are listed below:

Tuesday, September 26

6 p.m.- 8 p.m. inside the Smyrna Community Center’s Magnolia Room

Sunday, October 1

2 p.m.- 4 p.m. inside the Smyrna Community Center’s Dogwood Room

Tuesday, October 3

6 p.m.- 8 p.m. inside the Smyrna Community Center’s Magnolia Room

Annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration

This Saturday in the new Village Green Park downtown, the city will host its third annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration. It will take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and feature live performances, vendors, and events for kids.

The city made a proclamation in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month at its meeting this week. Members of the Hispanic Heritage Committee accepted the proclamation.

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15. It honors the cultures, histories, and contributions of US citizens whose ancestors originated from Spain and Latin America.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.

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