Historic church’s bid for funds stalls at CRA meeting

A historic black church in downtown Palatka that recently received national honors saw a funding request to the city of Palatka’s Community Redevelopment Agency board stall Monday evening.

Bethel A.M.E. Church, which was established in 1875 at its current location on the corner of North Eighth and Reid streets, requested $38,972.50 from the agency board. The church, recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, was seeking a 10 percent match for a Florida Historical Preservation grant. All total, the church was hoping to secure $389,125 for a variety of improvements.

Gary McGriff, representing the church, spoke to the agency board – which consists of Palatka’s commissioners and mayor, Putnam County Commissioner Karl Flagg and Downtown Palatka Inc.’s Sam Deputy – about the grant.

McGriff said the bulk of the improvement funds would be used to replace stain glass windows and structure work for doors and windows.

“I have requested from some private, potential donors, to no avail,” McGriff said. “Here I am, before this board and doing my due diligence in the prosecution of the application. We have to come up with and identify a commitment donor and get the commitment letter to go into the application to be complete.”

McGriff said the application for the nearly $400,000 grant was lacking a commitment letter for 10 percent of the grant funds.

When asked by Deputy, an agency board member, how much the church had raised “through pledges or subscription” to match the grant, McGriff said, “Zero.”

“The project just came up after we were designated a historic site,” McGriff. “I didn’t know anything about (the grant) until I heard from the state. We’ve known we’ve needed that work done a long time ago, but we’ve had trouble raising the money in-house because of financial reasons.”

Agency board member James Norwood suggested the church apply for the Building Improvement Grant, but Jonathan Griffith, a city staffer, said the grant is required to be advertised in the newspaper. No such advertisement has been published, Griffith said.

City Finance Director Matt Reynolds said the agency has about $107,000 in funds remaining, but Deputy cautioned that an advertisement for the grant program could generate many more applications than the city could fund.

At the end of the discussion, Palatka Mayor and agency board chairman Terrill Hill told McGriff the agency board could not provide funds for the church.

“We are not at the point to really consider this request, based upon the rules we have in place,” Hill said. “There are several steps required to do this.

“At this point, we haven’t advertised those programs, and if we haven’t advertised those programs, we can’t allocate the funds.”

The agency board did not instruct city staff to advertise the Building Improvement Grant or a façade improvement grant.

Palatka Daily News

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