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Old church a new 'sanctuary' for apartment seekers

News8Austin (07/27/2004)

By Natasha Allen

SAN MARCOS — There's a lot of history at the First Baptist Church in San Marcos, which was built in 1925. Until then, church members attended service in an old skating rink for almost 20 years.

"Some of those folks that walked up in 1925 are still members here today, and of course, remember vividly as a child what it was to walk to this wonderful, beautiful sanctuary," First Baptist Church Rev. Mark Newton said.

It's time to move again. The congregation has considered the idea for nearly 10 years. It seems not many people have a lot of use for a church.

"For about three years, we've had a sign out front 'for sale,'" Newton said.

Then, almost as if God himself had a hand in it, along came Terry Mitchell, with Momark Development LLC. A church member met Mitchell and asked if he knew anyone who would want to buy the church. Mitchell, an Austin developer, decided to change it into an apartment complex.

"The first architect I hired after he tried to work with the plans said, 'You know, it'll be a lot easier if you just take down the sanctuary.' And I said, 'God, we may have the wrong guy.' Because this a very integral part of this, the whole purpose of this is to preserve this building, its heritage and history," Mitchell said.

An urban development will be called "The Sanctuary" � a fitting name. It will feature apartment homes, shopping and restaurants within blocks of Texas State University. The new approach to living makes cars unnecessary.

The $22 million plan includes nearly 200 apartments. The church sanctuary will be transformed into a common area and apartments.

The property is close to the university, shopping, restaurants and downtown.

"The hope was, is, that we can better serve people by putting them here and they wouldn't have to get in their automobiles. They could walk or ride bikes and get where they go, where they need to go in a very comfortable environment," Mitchell said.

Some said the location might be good for college students in another way.

"It'll be exciting, good for Texas State students to be so close to God even while they're at Texas State," Newton said.

There are only two more Sunday services in the current church home, but many of the items at the church will be preserved, keeping the spirit alive.

The plans will go before the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission for approval Tuesday night and then the city council will have to approve the plans next month. If they are approved, groundbreaking could be as soon as October.

First Baptist Church of San Marcos is building a new church at McCarty Lane and Hunter Road.