'A SAD DAY': St. John Greek Orthodox Church to be razed for a restaurant (PHOTOS)

Matt Algarin
After sitting vacant for many years, St. John Greek Orthodox Church will be razed by local businessman Mike Buckingham, making way for a new restaurant project. The dedication plaque and stained glass windows have already been removed by family and the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

While the decision wasn't easy, Mike Buckingham has confirmed that he will indeed raze the St. John Greek Church at 303 Harbor Blvd.

"It's going to be coming down in the next week to two weeks," he told The Log Tuesday morning. "It's going to be a sad day, honestly."

Buckingham said he plans to build a 1,200-square foot concrete structure at the front of the property that will become some type of restaurant. The property will only have room for about 14 parking spaces.

Buckingham purchased the church, which was dedicated in 1984, in 2012 for $330,000, with plans to ultimately transform the property into a new business.

Given the parcel’s size, only 60-feet wide by 250-feet deep, Buckingham said he has run into quite a few roadblocks while trying to decide what to do with the property that has sat vacant for many years.

"It doesn't comply, that's simply the fact," he said. "There are so many things that are non-conforming, and I'm not able to purchase any property around me for additional parking."

Making matters worse, the church has begun to deteriorate — the carpets are mildewed and some of the wooden columns that support the church have begun to rot.

Buckingham told The Log that he has donated a lot of the items that were left inside the church to either family members, the Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Walton Beach or to the Becnel family at Sandestin, which plans to build a church in the resort using the old pews.

"I even found the groundbreaking shovel that was used and donated it," he said. "We gave away a lot of the murals and the pictures."

Kathy Marler Blue, from the Destin History and Fishing Museum, told The Log that the museum was able to secure the church's dedication plaque and a "pretty blue" stain glass window.

While she will be sad to see the church razed, Marler Blue said it's one of those things that was bound to happen at some point, especially once the church was sold.

"I can understand the emotions of all of those things," she said.

The land for the church was purchased by Capt. Ben Marler, Sr., and the church would eventually be built as a family prayer chapel in the early ‘80s. It served as the home of the annual cross dive and the launching point for the annual Blessing of the Fleet for many years. According to Log records, the last cross dive was held in 2006, before it was moved to Saints Markella and Demetrios and Santa Rosa Sound.

"I feel it's a tragic ending to such a beautiful building created by loving family members to honor their dad and grandfather," said Retired Capt. Ben Marler, who is the church founder's son.

Although it's going to be a "sad day" when the church is razed, Buckingham said he was offered some words that helped him find peace in his decision.

"My pastor told me that 'the land is God's land, it's not the church, so whatever you put on that land is going to be blessed,' " Buckingham said.