Integrating First Baptist with Laura St and Downtown

March 9, 2010 18 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

With the Laura Street Streetscape project underway, Metro Jacksonville takes a look at better integrating the First Baptist Church campus with the rest of downtown and eventually Springfield.

Improving Urban Connectivity

Despite the large membership and size of the complex, the majority of the First Baptist buildings tend to act as a barrier between the downtown core and Springfield. This phenomenon occurs because several structures have been designed to keep people in the buildings and off the streets. This is reinforced by a heavy presence of security guards that give the impression to the casual pedestrian that the church is strictly off-limits for non-members.  

Below, Metro Jacksonville offers a few architectural and urban design solutions to better integrate the core of the campus with downtown. The result would benefit the church by appearing more accessible to potential members and a downtown with additional pedestrian traffic, which is critical to achieving urban vibrancy.

Although three blocks of Laura Street travel through the center of the First Baptist campus, minor improvements between Beaver and Ashley Streets have the ability to change the entire facility's outside perception.

1. Expose Existing Restaurant

Image 1
Looking east from the NW corner of Laura & Ashley Streets

The Children's Building and Welcome Center properly addresses the street and attracts pedestrian foot traffic

Image 2: Photographed from exact same location as Image 1
Looking north from the NW corner of Laura & Ashley Streets

Directly across the street, the atmosphere is desolate despite the fact that this building houses the First Baptist Church restaurant.

Laura Street lies just beyond the dining room's glass block windows.

In most cases, improving interactivity between a building and the street will have a major impact on the interior use of the space behind the facade. At the corner of Laura & Ashley, the desirable interactive use is already in place in the form of a restaurant.  

Unfortunately, unless one is familiar with the church, the structure's appearance suggests that the street level space is used for storage or warehousing. Simply replacing the restaurant's glass block windows with something that allows those from the outside to see what takes place inside not only increases the restaurant's business but also adds light and activity to a desolate central block of the church campus. The addition of awnings and signage would also improve the area.

2. Campus Streetscape Lighting

The majority of the First Baptist Church campus would benefit from an upgrade in street lighting.  As the campus ages and the time comes to restore and upgrade existing buildings, special attention should be given to uplighting these structures and the landscaping surrounding them.

The image above captures Laura Street between the Children's Building (right) and restaurant (left).  Which side of the street appears to be more inviting?

3. Utilizing Extra Space

The entrance hall of the Children's Building.

The First Baptist campus includes multiple auditoriums, sanctuaries, and common areas that are rarely used. With a little creativity, these areas could be better utilized as spaces for galleries and exhibits showcasing Jacksonville, the church, and its impact on the community.  

Better utilization would benefit the church's growth, downtown's vibrancy, and help bridge the connectivity gap between Downtown and Springfield.

4. Conclusion

First Baptist Church and Laura Street corridor today.

This image combines several conceptual projects proposed along Laura Street between Hemming Plaza and Springfield.  If all become reality and are well integrated with one another, this corridor has the potential to be an exciting pedestrian friendly connection between Downtown and Springfield.

In conclusion, the image above captures the condition of Laura Street and the exterior of FBC's restaurant.  The sketch below, of a project at St. Vincent's Medical Center, serves as an example of what something as simple as awnings, outdoor seating and landscaping can do for integrating an existing facility with the outdoor urban environment.  

With minor exterior improvements and better utilization of facilities already in place, FBC's section of Laura Street could become a vibrant pedestrian friendly connection and destination in the urban core.  

Article and Photographs by Daniel Herbin, Stephen Dare, and Ennis Davis