Couples left scrambling after city of Orlando condemns wedding venue

City, fire department cite code violations and safety concerns


ORLANDO, Fla. – Couples who picked 1010 West Church St. in Orlando to host their upcoming nuptials are now scrambling to find a new venue after the city of Orlando shut off the power and condemned the building last month, after it failed to meet city code requirements.

The industrial space used to be an airplane hanger and is nestled in the city's Parramore district. For years, it had been used as a warehouse but recently, it became a sought-after space for church services, meetings and weddings.

The Cross Orlando Church had been hosting Sunday services there as part of their downtown outreach ministry.

"We had no reason to believe that the city and the building owner would not be able to remediate the concerns in short order," said Dennis McGavock, director of operations for The Cross Orlando, in an email to News 6. "We're working hard with everyone to get the space back open. Revised plans have been submitted to the city and are awaiting review. We're looking forward to returning to regular worship and activities as soon as possible. We have been in communications with those planning future activities at our location. 

[READ - The Cross Orlando Church's entire response to 1010 West being condemned]

The venue was exactly what Katie Rose and her fiance were looking for to host their special day. She says she put down a deposit of $750 to secure the space for their October wedding. 

"It was my dream venue," Rose said. "We had saved a lot of money by booking with them because they were a new venue."

Little did she know the building was cited for numerous code violations in September and failed to meet code during a June 26 review. Rose says she found out the building was condemned from her mother, who called her after seeing the news online.

"I was shocked," Rose said. "I cried."

When they started looking for another venue, they got another blow.

"It's going to cost four times as much," said Damon Keith, Rose's fiance. 

The couple says when they asked for a refund, they were told they wouldn't get it until 30 days from their October wedding date. 

According to the city of Orlando, as it stands now, the building at 1010 West Church St. is unfit for human occupancy. 

It was condemned in May for failing to obtain all the proper permits. Officials even cut the power to make sure no more events could take place inside. Code enforcement also told the venue to stop advertising online.

The 1010 West website was still up and active as of Thursday - even though a review done by the city of Orlando earlier this week showed the venue is not even close to being up to code.

News 6 contacted The Cross Orlando Church about the website still not reflecting the condemned status of the venue. Hours later, a message was added to the website stating, "Worship and religious exercise at this location has been halted by municipal order until further notice. No Tours available at this time."

"The people need to be safe," said Deputy Chief Ian Davis, with the Orlando Fire Department. "The fire inspector, code enforcement, permitting, several members of the city had walked the building and been inside of the building and we were all aware that it had major life safety concerns."

Both the city of Orlando and the Orlando Fire Department confirm they became aware of the situation in September of last year.

"The goal was to allow them to rectify these violations while we provided fire watch," Davis said. "But it was realized that they weren't fixing any of the violations."

"The city has had several meetings with the property owner to encourage the space becomes compliant," said Cassandra Anne Laser, press secretary for the city of Orlando. "And improvements are made to ensure the lives and safety of guests attending events there."

[READ - Orlando responds to 1010 West Church]

Brad Cowherd, the co-owner of the building, said he has been trying to get the building up to city code but admits it's taking a lot longer than expected.

"We've been cooperating and want to bring it up to code," Cowherd said. "We are begging the city please help us figure out a creative way to get it up to code. We are willing to put money in it and get it up to code."

Both the city and the Orlando Fire Department tried to work with the building owners and tenants in order to bring the building up to code since there were numerous weddings and other events scheduled.

For months, someone with the Orlando Fire Department was at the building during events as part of their fire watch program --  but it was only supposed to be a temporary band-aid and a show of good faith while the owners and tenants got the building up to code.

But brides like Rose say they should have never been hosting weddings in the building wasn't up to code, or accepting deposits from couples for one of the most important days of their lives.

"When you find the venue, it is like when you find the dress," Rose said. "And having to be forced to change it so last minute is very disappointing."

Andrea Hill and her fiancé, John Tyler, also reached out to News 6. They say they put down their deposit in January -- four months after The Cross Orlando Church and building owner were notified of the code issues.

"They basically told us that our wedding was so far out we had nothing to worry about," Hill said. "A lot of the alternative venues that we've looked into aren't even available anymore. I'm devastated. I'm heartbroken." 

Hill said they were never told there were any safety concerns with the building, let alone violations. 
Had they known, they would have never picked 1010 West for their wedding.

"Even if 1010 West opened tomorrow, I would not want to have my wedding there," Hill said. "I feel like they have treated us unethically. I feel like they haven't earned our trust." 

On Thursday, The Cross Orlando Church contacted both couples by email and stated they would be refunding their deposits. McGavock also contacted News 6 with this statement.

"At this point, if anyone that has an event at the location and wants to cancel we will honor the request and refund the deposit. We are continuing to work with the city on re-occupying our church, resuming worship services and working to meet the needs of the community."

Both Rose and Keith said they have moved their wedding to the Howey Mansion, which is also owned by Cowherd. 

The couple said the facility was able to offer a discount for the amount of their 1010 West deposit but they said it will still end up costing them much more than they were expecting.

“There are a lot of extra fees that we were not planning on because we thought we had it all planned out,” Keith said. “With having to change the venue, we can't use the same caterer. We have to use a different caterer, which is more expensive.”

Cowherd confirms that he was able to accommodate Rose and Keith at his other venue and moved her deposit over.

Peggy Garnett, who runs the Cottage at Lake Fairview, is also offering to help any couples whose wedding was planned at 1010 West.

“They have no place to go, and I am willing to do it for free if they don’t get their money back,” Garnett said. “If that happened to me, I don’t know what I’d do. So I’m willing to help them.”

If you want to see if your event venue is up to code or has any safety violations, click here.