LAKELAND, Fla. — A pair of property owners in Lakeland said they have big plans for an old church that’s been sitting vacant for years.

What You Need To Know

  • Two owners say they play to convert a vacant church building into a new bar and events center

  • The building — soon to be referred to as "The Chapel" — is on North Massachusetts Avenue in Lakeland

  • The plan has already received approval from the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority

  • The owners say they hope to open sometime in the Spring

The building, formerly Freely Forgiven Community Church, has seen better days and now, two Lakeland residents are looking to convert the former house of worship into a bar and event space.

“We think outside the box a lot,” said Kara Simm, co-owner of the space that’s being converted into a new venture called The Chapel.

A few months ago, the bar and event space she and her business partner owned in downtown Lakeland, called the Federal Bar, closed down.

Looking for a new place to grow a similar type of business, they say they stumbled upon an empty church on North Massachusetts Avenue.

“We had always seen this building, and it was kind of a, 'Let’s go check it out' kind of thing,” Simm said.

After seeing the inside of it and thinking about the possibilities in and around the space, she said they knew it was the spot.

“It just found us, and we found it,” Simm said.

She said they decided they would create The Chapel, a new bar and events location. While they plan to keep the stain glass windows, Simm said they’re converting the area that used to be a pulpit for their bartenders and are using a local artist to completely cover the arched ceiling with artwork.

“Just very European,” Simm said. “It’s going to be a cool vibe.”

After already getting the blessing from the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, they hope to create a space that can host private events up to 100 people during the week and be open to the public on weekends.

According to Simm and the application with the Downtown Development Authority, there has been little pushback to the idea of converting the former church.

“It’s just been empty — I think there’s more curiosity than anything,” Simm said. “It’s a commercial building at the end of the day, and even the building across the street has been vacant forever.”

She hopes that opening The Chapel will bring more business to the area that will occupy other empty buildings nearby. But Simm said they still have a decent road ahead before they can open the doors.

They have to get rid of the old pews and refurbish parts of the building before anyone can grab a drink at the former altar.

“We are literally just waiting on the blessing from the city in a couple weeks to start the process,” Simm said.

Simm says in that process, they plan to hire back as many of the staff members who worked at Federal Bar as they can.

According to Simm, they already have 100 or so emails from people wanting to host events once The Chapel opens.

She said they have a meeting with the Lakeland Planning and Zoning Committee later this month before it goes to the City Commission for approval in January.

If all goes to plan, Simm says they’ll start work on The Chapel and should be able to open it six to eight weeks later.