LifeWay is working with a consulting firm to study the advantages and disadvantages of a possible sale, said Rainer, LifeWay's president and CEO. About 1,100 of LifeWay's employees work in the downtown corporate offices. The organization also oversees 186 stores and 4,300 employees in 29 states.
Acknowledging that LifeWay has been located in the Music City for more than 120 years, Rainer cited demand for property in the downtown area and fewer employees now working at its corporate offices as reasons for studying a possible sale.
"... It would be poor stewardship for the organization not to explore the possibilities this situation could present for our ministry," Rainer, said in the Aug. 1 letter.
LifeWay, he said, could sell only a portion of its property. Or, it could sell all of its downtown campus and move outside the city, either into existing facilities or begin new construction. Rainer described the possibility of moving outside of middle Tennessee as "remote."
"... My preference is that we stay in downtown Nashville," Rainer said.
He noted the study is in its "very beginning stages."
"I assure you absolutely no decisions have been made, other than our commitment to use all the resources the Lord has provided us to make the maximum impact on churches and the kingdom, now and in the future," he said.
In the letter, Rainer addressed changes in the publishing industry and why more of LifeWay's employees now work outside of Nashville than at its corporate offices.
"Our needs have changed," he said. "We no longer print and package our resources on the first floor of the Operations Building and then put them on a conveyor belt running under Broadway to the U.S. Post Office.
"That post office building is now an art center, our printing is done all over the country, our assembly and shipping is centered in new facilities in Lebanon, , and sits mostly empty. We have been unable to even lease the space."
While LifeWay leases unused office space in its Frost Building along with the adjacent parking lot, Rainer said, hundreds of offices on its campus remain vacant. LifeWay spokesman Marty King estimated nearly one third of the facility is vacant or leased.
King declined to speculate about the value of the property. The Tennessean newspaper estimated the value at "more than $80 million." He noted one Nashville developer called the property "a homerun site."
Rainer said, "We have a lot of history here, and a lot invested in our property... But, times change. The needs of our customers change. So, LifeWay changes."
It could take several months or longer before a recommendation is made to LifeWay's trustees, Rainer noted.
"But, we might decide not to do anything at this time," he said. "There are so many factors to consider, we simply don't know what the final outcome will be or even what some of the alternatives might be."
Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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