BRADENTON -- The Bradenton City Council on Wednesday voted 4-1 to OK a special-use permit for a new conference center in downtown Bradenton operated by a faith-based business.
The approval of the special-use permit for Galatians 6:2 Inc. did not come easily because of concerns the building in the 500 block of 13th Street West might be used to provide services to the homeless. Council member Gene Brown cast the dissenting vote.
The former owner, William King, attempted in 2012 to transform the long-vacant building into "King's Station," a faith-based transit center for the homeless. The city accepted the application but noted nonprofits catering to the homeless were not desired downtown and the application never went any further.
The new owner, Galatians 6:2 Inc., with Gary Crawford as its president, closed on the property in August for $250,000. Crawford owns Bi-It Consulting but also operates faith-based organizations within his business consortium. Crawford was involved in King's efforts and acknowledged Wednesday it's a project he's "been working on for the past four years."
However, Crawford insists the conference center will be used to further his business incubator model and for "mentoring and training," but the council wasn't initially convinced. Crawford, who last month endured the same amount of scrutiny by the planning commission, said he does not work
directly with the homeless and never has.
"We don't do triage for the homeless," said Crawford. "We do work with the leadership of ministries that do care for homeless because we believe there is a lack of strategy and working together among the churches. A portion of the homeless do need help, but the larger portion doesn't want any help."
Crawford, who does have tax-exempt status, said he is waiving the exemption to keep the property on the tax rolls and is investing $500,000 into renovating the 6,750-square-foot building.
According to the new International Version of the Holy Bible, Galatians 6:2 reads: "Carry each other's burden, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
Crawford said his vision is to create more unity among those attempting to achieve the same goals.
"The idea is to build strategies, not just pushing it over to the neighbor's lawn," he said. "That's the coalition and communication change we are working on. It's not our intent to replace any faith-based ministry, but to get them to work together. If you listen to some of these ministries, everyone will champion their vision, which is wonderful, but you have to have a coalition so you are no longer in competition, rather in participation."
The council's approval of the permit came with stipulations. For example, Crawford will not be able to provide housing, food or other services for the homeless.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.