By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Take 80,000-square feet of city-owned church property – then add an architectural schematic, an overdue need for city office space and social services, toss in a promise to help disadvantaged children and a proposal to fix the place up for $5 million, a polarized and divided city council, then sprinkle on the fate of several years of financial and civic planning for downtown redevelopment.
Toss it all into a blender, and you have the basic framework for the current status of the First Baptist Church Redevelopment project.
To complicate matters further, add in a longtime Killeen financial magnate with a fervent religious zeal to purchase the church and give her time and money for the betterment of the city.
That added element comes in the form of Kakie Shea.
In the span of one week, Shea has gone from speaking to the city as a hopeful cheerleader in favor of the city's efforts to revitalize downtown to a woman willing to write a blank check for the building, and now to a total mystery who may or may not be actively pursuing purchasing the church.
That's what faced the Killeen City Council at its workshop Tuesday, as it attempted to wrap its collective arms around the mess that was to become the gateway project for downtown redevelopment.
Three of the seven council members are in favor of the current proposed project: Scott Cosper, Juan Rivera and Ernest Wilkerson. JoAnn Purser and Kenny Wells could see supporting the project, but only if significant changes are made. Larry Cole and Billy Workman seem to be in favor of abandoning the project altogether in favor of another option.
Cole said Tuesday that the city should pursue the interest of Shea as a potential buyer of the property while Workman criticized the current proposal.
Shea has not made any kind of official offer to the city to purchase the property, at least none the council would consider as an official offer.
And Shea, while considering bailing out entirely earlier Tuesday, said the lengthy process the city must undertake goes against her desires – she'd prefer just to write a check and toss up a sold sign on the property.
Similar discussions took place during the council meeting, as Mayor Tim Hancock and several council members emphasized the protocol that the city is legally and ethically obligated to follow during a potential transaction.
Shea said she plans on working on a different charity project for now, but she hasn't forgotten about the church.
"I'm certainly going to keep it on the table," she said Tuesday night. "I can provide verified funds within 24 hours of the time they give me a price."
Councilwoman Purser has more fundamental issues with the project, and feels it is simply anchored the wrong way. "Over and over again, we keep talking about the downtown revitalization in our community. But what is it that will draw people?" Purser said. "How do you convince the community to come there and spend money? How does it work so that it creates a domino effect? I don't believe the current use of the building in this plan will bring any more people into this town four or five times a year? … It seems like we are only reaching a small portion of the community."
Wells seemed to be the swing vote closest to approving the project, but he still has many questions.
"I'm still trying to make it an acceptable thing for everyone," Wells said. "We need to find a way to make it work – then I'll support it."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7568.