First Baptist Church Plans Provoke Preservationists

A growing church in downtown Ocean Springs is attracting unwanted attention with its planned expansion.

Historic preservation has long been a sensitive issue in the downtown area. That's why First Baptist Church is catching some criticism for its plans to tear down two old buildings.

First Baptist plans to tear down the building which most recently housed a French Bakery. The small chapel across from City Hall will also be coming down. It's picturesque, but eaten up with termites.

Some call the demolition plans a shame.

"My main concern is seeing the architectural integrity of downtown being decimated, really," said Ocean Springs artist Glenn Miller.

Milller has made a career of painting and sketching quaint buildings downtown.

"And I think we're at a point where we just can't lose any more important buildings. So many have been lost in the past for one reason or another," he said.

Mike Kilpatrick is a member of the church building committee. He says they simply need more space.

"And anything that we build is going to hold with the architectural design of the facilities we already have. We're not going to stick a sore thumb out on the side of a building somewhere," he said.

The church membership has already voted on the master plan for growth. Some 90 percent of the membership approved of the plans, which include both the demolition and construction of new buildings. Phase one of the three phase project is expected to meet the needs of Sunday school growth for the next 20 years.

Since the two buildings are "not" in the historic district, the church can proceed with demolition.

"If they're going to be saved, it will have to be from their own sense of good will and responsibility," said Glenn Miller.

"We're going to work with the city and community the best way we can. We're citizens of Ocean Springs too," Mike Kilpatrick counters.

It may require divine intervention to make both sides happy.

Plans for the new church buildings haven't been finalized yet. Church leaders met Tuesday night with the city's historic preservation committee. Several suggestions from that committee will be considered by the project architect.