The Tomball Economic Development Corp. is expected to close in April on purchasing the 4.63-acre campus of First Baptist Church Tomball, a project TEDC officials hope will spur other redevelopment in the city’s heart.

“Part of our strategic plan goal is the redevelopment and revitalization of downtown and to try to facilitate catalytic projects that are going to be able to really kick off some meaningful redevelopment, and so that site really just started coming to mind, and it became clearer and clearer that that really is our next opportunity site,” TEDC Executive Director Kelly Violette said.

The sale of the church property is expected to close April 12, Mayor Lori Klein Quinn said during a March 3 State of the City address.

First Baptist Church Tomball, located at Houston and Oxford streets, has been on the market on and off over the last two decades as the church grappled with the right timing and buyer, Lead Pastor James Clark said. The church bought 32 acres in 2003 for its new home near Quinn Road and Hwy. 249.

“It’s been a 20-year project for the church with the intent to relocate,” Clark said. “Probably about five years ago ... we got a lot more intentional about having it on the market.”

At the same time, the TEDC has shifted its focus from the Tomball Business and Technology Park that is approaching build-out to redevelopment in Old Town Tomball—the downtown area. In addition to the church property, the TEDC is redeveloping the South Live Oak Industrial Park, 6.2 acres purchased in 2020.

“We’ve really been evaluating the best uses ... so that it does really become, again, kind of a catalyst project on the east side of downtown,” Violette said.

Building the business park

Violette said the TEDC is set to sell the final 18-acres in the Tomball Business and Technology Park in April.

The TEDC has been developing its 99.5-acre business park since its May 2014 groundbreaking, Community Impact previously reported. Since that time, the park has brought 568 jobs to Tomball, Violette said.

“I think that business park and the concept behind it has been a great plus for the city of Tomball—not only the jobs it’s brought to Tomball,” City Council Member Mark Stoll said. “It’s definitely putting Tomball on the map from a business perspective.”

While the park is approaching build-out, Violette said the TEDC has no plans to expand its footprint there.

“There was discussion about ‘Do we want to do another business park? Where do we want to focus our efforts?’ The board determined we had great interest in Old Town Tomball,” said Chad Degges, a TEDC board member and former City Council member. “The redevelopment of Old Town has been years in the making with the EDC.”

The TEDC identified the redevelopment of Old Town as a goal within its 2020-23 strategic plan, which was created in 2020 through input from stakeholders and the city to help fulfill the city’s goals, he said.

The TEDC is able to fund projects through the one-half cent of sales tax revenue it receives from each dollar spent in the city.

Budget data shows TEDC sales tax revenue is projected to surpass $5 million in FY 2022-23, growing 22.35% since FY 2018-19. In that time, reserve funds have grown from $24 million to $28.71 million as well, allowing funds for property acquisition.

“Personally, I’ve been a proponent of partnering with the city to redevelop Old Town, because it takes a lot of money and time,” Degges said. “The EDC sits in a unique position to really speed that process up.”

Redevelopment projects

In its FY 2022-23 budget, the TEDC allocated $5 million for redevelopment of the South Live Oak Industrial Park site just east of the railroad tracks in Old Town.

Violette said plans are in design for repurposing the two buildings on the site, and the TEDC has vetted concepts from food halls to restaurant and retail space.

In addition, council members approved moving $4.5 million from the TEDC’s budget reserves Feb. 20 to acquire the First Baptist Church Tomball property.

Violette said the TEDC has no immediate plans for the church campus and is planning to lease the church back to the congregation for it to occupy until a new church building is finished. Violette said the TEDC will evaluate the potential uses of the site, which could include a municipal use or be privately redeveloped.

“We do have access immediately to the parking lots, so the [First] Baptist Church parking lots will become available this year for our downtown events and to give more parking down there,” Quinn said.

Bryan Hutson, managing partner for The Hutson Group, a family-owned real estate development business focused on Old Town, said he hopes to blend future projects with the TEDC’s plans for the church and South Live Oak properties, as The Hutson Group owns land nearby each.

“I see a lot of potential for redevelopment of downtown ... in those buildings; that’s a huge campus,” he said. “Tomball is evolving very quickly, and the one thing that we’re trying to do as a family is try to help maintain that small-town look and feel for at least the downtown area which we have the most influence in.”

Violette said the community will have the opportunity to weigh in on the best use for the campus through an update to the city’s comprehensive plan, a long-term visionary plan.

“People are attached to [the church], so I think for us, we have this unique ability to redevelop it and still keep what is kind of meaningful but also do that in a way that meets the needs of downtown,” Violette said.

Plans for First Baptist Tomball

Clark said First Baptist Church Tomball was organized in 1909.

“It’s like a dream come true. ... We have a deep love for Tomball,” he said. “The main worship center—they’re wanting to keep that facade as we understand it. ... The fact that a lot of that historic spiritual activity will still be represented, not as a church but just as the facade, the building itself.”

At the new campus, Clark said Phase 1 is anticipated to open in summer 2025. The first phase of the 32-acre property will include a 600-seat auditorium with a two-story classroom wing for children, youth and adults.

The master plan for the property also includes an outdoor venue, ponds and recreational space for the community, including the existing outdoor pavilion on the property, Clark said.

“There’s a lot of history, and we recognize that. But at the same time, the church is very strategic about what we can do to benefit the community now and in the future, and the new property allows us to do that,” Clark said. “Everything just fell in place for both organizations.”