Downtown Revitalization Reinvigorates Urban Congregations

The new wave of residents in downtown Orlando are helping to resurrect long-time churches that never fled to the suburbs.

"After decades of decline, the population within a mile of the heart of downtown -- Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard -- has grown from 12,000 to 15,000 during the past six years, says Frank Billingsley, Orlando's director of economic development. When the buildings now under construction are completed, within the next 24 months, the total will rise to 19,127. If -- and experts say this is a big if -- proposed construction goes forward, downtown population could reach 30,000 in the next five years.

That offers hope to downtown churches, many of which were hurt by a flight to the suburbs -- or decided to move there themselves. The most symbolic of these was First Baptist Church of Orlando, which in 1985 moved to a new complex off John Young Parkway, 51/2 miles from a downtown location on Pine Street.

During the past few decades, the venerable "First" churches and cathedrals largely depended on people willing to drive in from the suburbs, or older residents who populated religion-affiliated retirement towers around Lake Eola.

But now the area is seeing an infusion of young and middle-age residents who can walk, ride their bikes or take a short drive to church."

Full Story: As downtown is reborn, so are its churches

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