A church has purchased the Plant City Cornerstone Center, which has sat empty for 22 years.
Ed. Note: Flip through the photo gallery to see pictures of rooms with proposed future uses.
It was Sept. 2, 1923, when the Plant City Cornerstone Center housed its first service for the First Baptist Church of Plant City. Construction took two years.
The groundbreaking for the structure was held Jan. 6, 1921. It was a historic moment. At the groundbreaking, the church’s then-oldest member, Sarah Collins, and youngest member, Edith Wiggins, participated.
Prior to that, the congregation met in a small white frame building behind the center. For decades, countless people walked in and out of its doors seeking a place for worship.
In 1994, the church closed its doors to build a larger facility next door. Though a committee formed a nonprofit to preserve the historic building, it remained empty.
For 22 years, the building has sat vacant.
At the end of May, New Hope Worship Center bought the building to house New Hope Worship Center’s expanding congregation. In March 2015, when Pastor John Swiney took over, the church had 33 members. Today, between 260 and 300 people come to the church on a regular basis. The congregation has outgrown its former facility on Mahoney Street.
“We purchased this building to revitalize it,” Swiney said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but the building is sound. There are no problems with the structure.”
The church originally wanted property to build a new sanctuary but didn’t want to go into debt. After walking through the Cornerstone Center, Swiney knew New Hope Worship Center had the opportunity of a lifetime.
“The hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Swiney said. “I knew that this had to be a church. More than thousands of people gave their life to Christ here. We believe that thousands more will continue to do that.”
Most recently, New Hope Worship Center has had the building tented to get rid of termites. Though the pews in the Cornerstone’s Center have termite damage, much of the structure remains intact.
“We just want people who come to this building to feel that they’ve walked into something very special in Plant City,” Swiney said. “We want to minister to the people of Plant City. We’re here for them. This place is going to be open every day of the week for a church event or some type of community involvement.”
New Hope Worship Center plans to host its first service at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5.
“We’re expecting a huge turnout of people who are excited to see this opened up,” Swiney said.
Before then, the church has work to do.
New Hope, New Life
The center’s air conditioning unit needs to be updated, and it only has three two-stall bathrooms for the entire three-story building. Before opening, the church will construct new bathrooms for men and women on each floor.
In addition, the balcony railings in the sanctuary will be fixed, and the baptismal pool will be revitalized. Demo work will be done in the basement, where one room will be converted into a fully-functioning kitchen. The basement will be converted into a worship area for the Hispanic congregation and the upper floors will have rooms for youth and children.
“It’s mostly surface work,” Swiney said. “Ceilings, drywall. We’re either going to salvage the pews or install
An elevator will be installed so that the center becomes ADA compliant. Swiney wants the church to be open and accessible to everyone.
The church’s sanctuary can fit up to 500 people and an overflow room can fit an additional 200. One wall behind the sanctuary’s stage may be knocked down to create more room. The church is keeping the center’s original pine floors. The church plans on revitalizing the bells.
Administration and pastoral offices will be on the first floor, complete with a deacon’s office.
When First Baptist Church inhabited the building, small rooms were formed into classrooms. New Hope Worship Center will knock down walls on the second floor of the building to create a fellowship hall, as well as larger classrooms. Small classrooms that share a wall will be formed into one larger classroom. The former youth room will be converted into a missionary room.
A room off of the sanctuary will be converted into an area for the nursery so that parents have quick access to children.
“We believe that it will become one of the stronger churches in Plant City,” Swiney said.
Contact Emily Topper at [email protected].