A veil of white dust covers the organ, the pulpit and the pews at the Grand Lutheran Church in Fort Lauderdale, a house of God bought by developers who planned to raze it for townhouses.
Three years later, the steeple and stained glass still stand, and the developers are desperate to sell the church at 1801 NE 13th St. In a last-ditch marketing bid, they recently pitched signs that say, more or less, "Buy this church or we'll bulldoze it in 29 days."
"I don't want to say it was a mistake, but churches are very difficult deals to move," said Danny Koplowitz, an investor in the property now listed for $3.25 million.
In South Florida's bleak real-estate market, houses for sale aren't the only glut. Churches and other religious properties, some of them bank foreclosures, are plentiful, and stuck in a commercial purgatory. Potential buyers -- mainly other churches -- are being shunned by lenders due to dwindling collection-plate revenues and fears of having to "foreclose on God" if the economy deteriorates further.
Last month, the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami closed down 13 struggling parishes throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Most of those church buildings are now for sale, said Mary Ross Agosta, the diocesan spokeswoman.
"It's like selling the family home you grew up in when your parents move to Florida or Alaska," said Ross Agosta. "It's emotionally upsetting. These are places where people got married. They baptized their children there."