Naftali’s building purchase roils Fort Lauderdale church

Congregants accused First Baptist leaders of engaging in secret deal with NYC developer

Naftali Group's Miki Naftali and 501 Northeast Second Street in Fort Lauderdale (Naftali Group, Google Maps)
Naftali Group's Miki Naftali and 501 Northeast Second Street in Fort Lauderdale (Naftali Group, Google Maps)

Thou shall not close real estate deals involving church property in secret — or thou shall feel thy flock’s wrath.

Dissident members of the First Baptist Church Fort Lauderdale are accusing the congregation’s leadership of surreptitiously selling a nearly 0.2-acre lot with a two-story building at 501 Northeast Second Street to New York-based developer Naftali Group, according to Florida Bulldog.

The church transferred the property to a Delaware entity controlled by Naftali on Aug. 1, according to the deed, which does not list the actual sales price. A First Baptist resolution attached to the deed states that the church’s members approved the deal on July 31, after reviewing a recommendation by the board of trustees and the congregation’s deacons. However, the resolution did not list the name of the buyer or the sale price.

Naftali, led by Chairman and CEO Miki Naftali, declined comment. In May, the condo and multifamily developer paid $21 million for a Tires Plus store on a nearly 1-acre property at 201 North Federal Highway near the church property Naftali acquired. Naftali plans to redevelop the Tires Plus site into an apartment project, but the firm has not disclosed specifics. The former church property could be part of an assemblage, if Naftali were to purchase two other lots on the same block that are not owned by the church.

A First Baptist spokesperson told The Real Deal that the buyer requested that its identity and the sale price be kept confidential, but that church trustees, deacons and a budget and audit team worked together to “maximize the value for the greater good of the church.”

A quorum of more than 100 congregants unanimously voted to approve the sale, the spokesperson said. Due to Fort Lauderdale’s real estate boom, First Baptist received multiple unsolicited offers for the property and the buyer paid “considerably higher than the appraised value,” the spokesperson added.

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First Baptist is embroiled in a bitter battle between church leaders and an estimated 200 members who were expelled in April of last year, one of whom sued the church and won a Broward County Circuit Court ruling forcing arbitration with the Institute for Christian Conciliation, Florida Bulldog reported.

The church spokesperson denied the members were expelled. Some members parted ways with First Baptist after the church approved new bylaws in 2018, the spokesperson said.

In March, Naftali jumped into the South Florida market with its $40.5 million purchase of a 44,500-square-foot development site within Miami Worldcenter, the $4 billion mega-mixed-use development in Miami’s Park West neighborhood. Naftali and its partner, Cara Real Estate Management, plan to build two “supertall” residential towers, but the joint venture has not disclosed whether the buildings will be rentals or condos.

– Francisco Alvarado