Fla. Megachurch Seeks to Buy Dillard's Store for Expansion

Christ Fellowship, a megachurch in Florida, is engaged in discussions with authorities of Boynton Beach city to find ways to buy an abandoned Dillard’s store despite a moratorium on nonprofits building in commercial spaces and the city’s concerns over an overflow of traffic.

The Palm Beach Gardens-based church, whose teaching pastor is the evangelical author and speaker John C. Maxwell, wants to buy a closed 126,000-square-foot Dillard’s store at the Boynton Beach Mall to build its fifth campus.

The church can’t buy the store until the city decides to revoke a six-month moratorium on allowing nonprofits to build in commercial spaces. City commissioners voted for the moratorium in November. While it is possible for the commissioners to lift the moratorium, they also want to figure out the likely impact of an increased number of cars on Congress Avenue.

But six months is too long a wait for the growing church that hosts weekend services for about 17,000 people, according to Palm Beach Post.

The church has made an attractive offer to the city. Christ Fellowship’s land planner, Donaldson Hearing, says the church would pay a donation to match what the city would collect in taxes from a commercial entity.

In a meeting with city commissioners last week, Hearing said the church would also bring more people to the mall. “We believe we have an opportunity to bring thousands of people every weekend to that mall, which would be a great shot in the arm,” he was quoted as saying. Moreover, Hearing told commissioners, the church would give the city thousands of dollars in other fees “that you wouldn’t get from an empty Dillard’s building.”

But Vice Mayor Bill Orlove says yet another concern is how it will impact the possible sale of the mall.

To resolve the issues, representatives from the church and the Dillard’s store plan to meet with the city commissioners again on Feb. 7, when they hope a decision will be made.

Founded by Pastor Tom Mullins, Christ Fellowship’s main facility has a 300,000-square foot church on 40 acres on Northlake Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens. The megachurch also has campuses in CityPlace, Royal Palm and Stuart.

In 2005, Christ Fellowship paid $12 million and built a church in a gutted 120,000-square-foot Target store in Royal Palm Beach.