Local divisions stymie redevelopment hopes
By Derek Catron, Staff Writer
As seen in the Daytona Beach News-Journal
First, the good news. Nearly everyone interviewed for this series agreed on one thing: Daytona Beach has a huge upside.
Said local real estate agent Greg Antonich, “Daytona has absolutely tremendous potential. It could be so much more than it is right now.”
Hotel developer Anand Jobalia: “There’s a lot this place offers.”
County Manager Jim Dinneen: “Daytona Beach, as long as it stays focused, has a real solid future. You go far enough out in the future and that property, no matter how underdeveloped it is today, the property under those buildings is going to have value.”
The bad news? Getting people to agree on the best way for Daytona Beach to realize that potential will be no easy task.
Volusia is the only county with three separate advertising authorities, and the recent debate over their membership and priorities is just one example of the area’s difficulty in reaching a consensus.
In a community where the topic of beach driving can be as divisive as politics or religion, differences of opinion, old grudges and bitter history splinter the area in ways too many to count. Just try …
Residents debate businesses and hotels over special events and zoning requirements; year-round businesses fight with those who rely on itinerant vendors; big hotels compete for bed tax dollars with little hotels; residents fight with the city over development priorities.
The list is big enough that it’s the second thing nearly everyone agrees on: There are too many divisions.
“Ninety percent of where we’re at is the divisions,” beachside merchant Paul Politis said. “We spend so much time fighting each other. If we put just as much energy into building things up, we wouldn’t have any of these problems.”
The negative attitudes don’t drive down property values on their own, but they can make it harder to find the will — or the faith — to fix things.
“This place has a real inferiority complex,” developer Brett Dill said. “I look at the cities on the west coast of Florida. I don’t think they have nearly as much to offer as this area does. But I don’t hear them constantly belittling their existence the way you hear here in Daytona.”
“One of my biggest gripes about our community is we have people who can walk past a flower and only see the dirt,” said attorney Tom Leek, the past chairman of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Until we as a community can start to recognize some of the assets we have for their beauty and for their authenticity, then it’s going to be difficult for us to move forward.”
Infighting does more than simply complicate the political process. It can derail progress before it can even get started.
“Sometimes in Daytona that political difference gets out in front,” chamber president Larry McKinney said. “It happens on a lot of different issues, and developers are looking. That can cause them some concern.”
It’s far too easy to kill a business deal, either intentionally or by accident because of a failure to reach a consensus, said attorney Doug Daniels.
“This area has historically thought people were going to come to down and beg it to do things,” Daniels said. “They believe in miracles, that somebody with a lot of money is going to come to town, see the potential and beg them to do things. That’s not the way the world works. The people you’d want in Daytona doing quality developments aren’t going to beg you.”
Daniels looks back to a failed deal to bring a Marriott to a stretch of beach that’s now vacant. Dill can point to his own efforts to build condos in the area. There are several other projects, either shelved by the economic downturn or stymied by political gridlock.
That history doesn’t speak well of Daytona Beach’s future chances for building a consensus on another big project, City Commissioner Pam Woods said.
“There is an amazing mindset in this town that pits business against residents,” said Woods, who was on the front lines of some of those debates over the size and scope of special events. “You’re never going to move forward until that mindset changes.”
It might be better to focus on smaller projects that can help unify the city, she added.
“What’s good for business should be good for the residential neighborhoods,” she said. “And what’s good for residential neighborhoods should be good for businesses. In other communities, that’s the way it is.”
A commitment to cleaning up beachside housing so property values were in line with the intrinsic value of land so near the ocean would be good for nearly everyone, she said.
Residents would feel safer if the neighborhoods were cleaned up, and more permanent residents would be attracted to the area.
That would be good for businesses, who would have more patrons. More shops and restaurants might follow.
And that would be good for hotels, whose guests would have more activities to enjoy. It might even be easier to book conventions to the Ocean Center.
“We’re not going to have tourists here 365 days a year,” Woods said. “Any other community has a residential base that patronizes the restaurants, the bars, the movie theaters. We’ve done our best to ruin our residential base on our beachside, so you don’t have people who have the money to be there on the days when you don’t have the tourists.”
Businessman Politis agreed. “You talk about all the places you want to visit. They’re all great places to live. There’s a connection between great vacation places — they’re all great places to live.”