Both Grace Connection Church and Gulfport’s Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church are looking at some big changes that include bringing affordable housing to the area.
Amidst city zoning regulations and community outcry, the churches are facing two very different roads on the way to development.
The Plight of Grace Connection
Since the summer of 2019, Grace Connection Church, at 635 64th St. S., has been looking to sell the property due to high costs and aging infrastructure of the building, built in 1958.
A sale to the City of St. Petersburg fell through in May of 2019 when Pastor Tim Kelley decided to sell the property to another congregation following public anger from residents, both in Gulfport and St. Petersburg, about the idea of affordable housing in their neighborhood.
Soon after, that deal also fell through after a “handshake agreement.”
Today, Grace Connection is in talks with Blue Sky Communities of Tampa to construct a 55-plus, four-story building featuring 85 units.
In February of 2020, St. Petersburg’s Community Planning and Preservation Commission rejected a request for rezoning the property following resident complaints about the size, structure and largely unsubstantiated ideas about potential crime.
Blue Sky is currently in the process of appealing the rejected request. Kelley remains hopeful that the process will pan out and allow the church to move to a more manageable location, while offering needed housing for the community.
“I think the neighborhood will be much happier with them than with us, safer even,” Kelley said. “The property is too much for us to maintain. There’s been stolen cars left here; the police are frequently called.”
Money on the Line
When Grace Connection came to the building in 2012, the congregation split services and shared the church with Pasadena Baptist Church.
Church numbers eventually dwindled, and Grace Connection was left with an aging building.
In the last few years, for the first time in three decades, the City of St. Petersburg inspected the property to ensure it was up to code. That inspection would cost the church $250,000 in pending violations.
“Those violations are still pending, but we’re not viable because we’re in the process of selling,” Kelley said.
If another congregation were to take over, those fees would belong to them. For Blue Sky, the building would be completely torn down, erasing the piling bills.
“I would sell it to the first person I could,” Kelley said. “I would rather spend money on public outreach than 20 air conditioners.”
Holy Name Awaits Approval
Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church is awaiting City of Gulfport approval on a 59-unit building that will feature 75 apartment units for fixed income elderly residents on church property at 5800 15th Ave. S.
“The building is on our campus and we want to be certain it is well maintained,” said Pat Sullivan, Parish Manager at Holy Name.
Unlike Grace Connection, Holy Name is funding the project entirely independently. The church met with Blue Sky Communities to explore building plan options for the site.
“We look forward to working with the city to make this worthwhile project a reality,” Sullivan said. “We are excited to realize the church’s mission to serve the local community in this way, and we hope that the city and community will support us in this endeavor.”
These stories are developing. The Gabber will provide updates as they’re available.