Historic Fort Lauderdale church to remain intact, developer says

Developer plans to repurpose interior, but keep exterior intact

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A developer of an investment group that purchased the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Lauderdale spoke Tuesday night on the future of the church after the community put up a fight.

"It's a very important church," artist Robin Haines Merrill said. "It's the only church of its kind in South Florida."

The First Evangelical Lutheran, which was built in 1922, sits on the corner of Northeast Third Avenue and Fifth Street in Fort Lauderdale's Flagler Village. It was first built as a Catholic church on Las Olas Boulevard.

"This was originally St Anthony's," Merrill said.

The Catholic Church eventually sold the building to the Lutheran Church.

Merrill fell in love with the church a few years ago when she rented space on the church property for her gallery.

The church's congregation dwindled over the years and the church and property were sold in 2016 to an investment group that planned to tear the church down and build a rental property.

That's when Merrill realized that the only way to save it was to get it designated as a historic building.

"You can't rebuild something like this. It represents the heart and souls of the people who came here," Merrill said.

Local 10 News reporter Neki Mohan spoke to the developer, Itay Avital, who admitted the pushback by the concerned citizens forced his company to take another look at the site.

Avital announced Tuesday night that there are no plans to tear down the church. In fact, the church will remain intact, he said.

Instead, the interior would be repurposed into a restaurant or market, while the exterior would remain the same.

Merrill said she would like to keep the church as a place of worship.

"'Fort Liquordale' has enough happy hours," she said. "We need some holy hours."

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