City to Rule on New Downtown Bar Across from First Baptist Church

City to Rule on New Downtown Bar Across from First Baptist Church

At first glance the local zoning requirements seem clear, no bar can be located within 500 feet of churches or schools. However, developers who plan to refurbish 155 W. College Avenue and open a bar – which is less than 500 feet from First Baptist Church – is asking the City of Tallahassee to allow the project to move forward because First Baptist Church is not “exclusively” a church.

Property and business records show the building to house the proposed bar is currently owned by the College Ave. District LLC . The sole “Manager” of the LLC, according to, is Craig Mateer, an Orlando businessman. Mateer is also a former FSU basketball player and a current member of the FSU Board of Trustees.

The property was acquired by College Ave. District in June 2020 for $1.24 million.

Officials with the First Baptist Church have made it clear they oppose the development due to the zoning requirements and, in part, due to prior experience with bar patrons in the area.

The City of Tallahassee, in a recent communication, stated that the proposed development “does not meet the separation requirements of Sec. 3-2 of the Code of General Ordinances, which requires that the establishment be located at least 500 feet from churches and schools.”

However, the communication also noted, “the applicant has argued that the separation requirement should not apply because First Baptist Church does not meet the definition of “church” as outlined in the City’s code.”

The code defines church as “any building used exclusively for religious services and religious education regularly and the title to which such building is owned or held by such church.” The applicant has argued that the zoning regulations do not apply because the church operates additional uses on the site, such as a health club and restaurant. 

However, representatives of the church have indicated that the 500 feet separation should apply to the site, not only because of the church, but because they also operate a VPK program that they believe qualifies as a school.  

First Baptist Church was first organized in 1849 as the Baptist Church of Tallahassee. The named was changed in 1894. The church considered changing locations in the early 2000’s but decided against a move.

Staff with the City of Tallahassee has indicated that the City Attorney’s Office is reviewing the specific code provisions related to the issue and expects to make a decision next week.

16 Responses to "City to Rule on New Downtown Bar Across from First Baptist Church"

  1. The city commissioners want to make voters happy, not developers. Of course the opposite is true if the developer has made sufficient “contributions” to the commissioners. The city attorney will find legal justification for whatever her bosses want to do.
    We all know there are already enough bars downtown.
    We all know the First Baptist Church is, in fact, a church and has been for over 100 years.
    We’ll see where the integrity of our commissioners and our city management lies.

  2. This operation should not be allowed, the First Baptist Church has been putting up with bar like encroachments for several years on their property. Enough ignoring City ordinances. Let’s go by the book.

  3. SO, The property was acquired by College Ave. District in June 2020 for $1.24 million BEFORE they checked to see if they can build their Bar there…………. MOST Companies would have done some research to MAKE SURE they can put their Business at a specific location BEFORE buying it………. UNLESS, they know someone with pull to get the rules bent for them……Hmmmm. Richardson is the only oldie left…….. maybe HE is training a couple of the newbies to……… Nooooo, he would do that would he? Lets see who Votes FOR it and that should tell us what we need to know.

  4. We have to STOP bending the Rules for these Developers. This is one of the reasons I am running for Leon County Commissioner District 5 in 2022

  5. We had a meth user who liked to party with male prostitutes for Mayor, why not have a bar right next to what is very clearly (to anyone who hasn’t completely lost their mind) a church?

  6. Snidley – I would be really interested in knowing what proof you have of those allegations, especially the part about the church receiving a payoff.

    1. Its the way business is done in Tallahassee.
      Na you wont find that.
      But a lack of this “proof” you bring up as a gotcha trap does not nullify the allegation.
      These deals are done under the table.
      Not every Tallahassee official and business person is as sloppy or stupid as Scott, Paige, or that Burnett fellow. And leave a clear trail even one of Jim Comey’s sleepy FBI weasels could follow.
      Just watch how it turns out.

  7. For 171 years First Baptist has been a functioning church in downtown Tallahassee, Florida. Its sole mission is, and has been throughout its history, to meet the spiritual needs of its parishioners, families, and the city at large. All activities within the walls of the church exist to support that mission. Therefore, by code, this bar cannot exist directly across the street from the church’s front door. Decent Christian people understand this realty. Apparently Mr. Mateer does not and I doubt that he cares since he doesn’t even live in this community.

    Mr. Mateer, take your bar and the sleaze that will follow and go somewhere else. I think that most good citizens, certainly us Christians, have had enough of this sort of thing. We’re tired of seeing ordinances ignored, skirted, and manipulated. This is a very clear issue and I would hope that the city commission will follow the code and act responsibly. Enough is enough!

  8. I am not a member of that church but the building that faces College Ave. is a Church. Honor the ordinance and do not allow it to open there.

  9. This is a done deal. Payoffs already made. It shall pass the scrutiny of our elected nannies and the Church got paid to put on an initial show of resistance with a last minute agreement.

  10. You’d think the due diligence would have been done within the 90 days of purchasing the property before spending 1.2 million dollars. It will have to come back with a big NO for the use to be a bar that close to a church or school.

    It’s a church! So what if they have other meetings there, or excercise, that’s a safe place

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