dr. mary mcleod bethune boulevard...
...is a poor reflection of its illustrious namesake. The pioneering educator and nationally known activist would surely be disappointed by the absentee ownership, poor maintenance and lack of city investment evidenced in the neighborhood surrounding the institution she established. How can a commercial neighborhood that literally runs through one college, abuts another, and is less than a mile from a third, sit in such an unloved condition?
Not to discount all the current merchants - businesses like Fifi's hair salon, Johnny Pride's automotive repair, Artistic Flowers, the newer Midtown Cafe, and some others, persevere in spite of the surrounding atmosphere. Towards Nova Road, recent investment has improved the appearance of an entire block that includes the Bethune Grill. But other sections, especially at the east end of the street near Ridgewood Avenue, are in dire need of some loving attention. What is holding back a street that once was, and should now be, a vibrant community hub?
**BIKE events allow vacant properties covered by the Bikeweek and Biketoberfest Master plans to make money for owners without requiring the investment in improvements that would attract long-term tenants. As on Main Street, Bike events allow owners to bring in vendors and sell merchandise at a high profit in, or on lots abutting, their stores. Parking for visiting bikers, and sometimes their RV's and trailers, is another money maker. Why bother investing if you can cover taxes and insurance and make a tidy (cash) profit with a two-week effort annually? Following pressure from C4RD and others, the city is beginning to crack down on Main Street and is disallowing profitable participation in the Bike Week Master plan by properties with outstanding code violations; now the City is adding a beautification project between Ridgewood and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard on MMB.
**The hope of future value springs eternal in the hearts of some owners, who are willing to spend only the bare minimum out of pocket while they wait for the "next big thing" to come along and raise the value of their property. Sadly, former Commissioner Ruth Trager and her husband appear to fit under both this and the previous category. The couple, together, or separately, once owned 14 units, all in the 300 block - one of the worst blocks on the street (see the list here.) Presently, they own 12 units and 2 vacant parcels, because the other two buildings were condemned and demolished. The condition of their remaining properties merits continued action related to code violations.
**The city has failed to invest in Midtown in proportion to other areas of Daytona Beach. A recent example of this disparity is the $4 million allocated for narrowing Beach Street, a street that was attractive and useful in its current condition, and the commitment to a payment of $800,000 per year for maintenance of the adjacent Riverfront Park from CRA funds. Meanwhile, the plan to "revitalize" MMB is adding street banners and replanting dead trees. (See the beautification plan HERE) There is a Midtown Redevelopment Plan, yet action on the plan has been virtually non-existent. MMB has a number of gaping vacant areas that are the result of blight demolition, but there is no plan to address the problems this creates in the walkability of the street, or a coordinated approach to redeveloping the parcels. The Campbell Hotel, a historically significant property, is slowly slipping into decline; it would be worthwhile for the city to acquire it, declare it an historic property and oversee appropriate renovations. The hotel sits in front of Daisy Stocking Park, where recent renovations are making a big improvement in its usability and attractiveness.
Some ascribe the disparities in funding and attention to racism, others to the failure of local property owners to advocate effectively with government. The MMB corridor is at the core of the Midtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), but redevelopment seems to have focused on tearing down, without designing efforts to build up. While the social activities organized by the former Midtown CRA manager were well-attended and were appreciated by many for the community-building they created, they were no replacement for actual redevelopment activities. Now there is a full-time staff person dedicated to this CRA, one with relevent experience. One investment by the CRA a few years ago, a grocery study to pinpoint potentially profitable locations for a grocery store in Midtown, was buried by former city staff rather than treated as a jumping-off point for new commercial activity within the CRA.
Other than capital improvements in 2008 and 2009, the vast majority of the Midtown CRA funds over the past 4 decades have been spent on salaries, underwriting the cost of so-called "redevelopment" staff and the costs of administering routine services in this area. [see the data HERE] Midtown needs an infusion of money that is accompanied by the energy and interest at City Hall to make a difference in this neighborhood!
Some ideas for new investment:
-- Micro-loans to small businesses
-- A restaurant incubator that features pop-up eateries, allowing new ventures to find their market
-- City-sponsored street events to bring people from other parts of the community. The Seafood Festival is a good start
-- City acquisition, rehabilitation and marketing of key properties
-- Aggressively promoted facade improvement loans or grants
-- Developing an urban farm that employs local youth
Daytona Beach doesn't need to invent these programs - models are everywhere. The Florida Redevelopment Association, for one, offers an annual conference that allows communities to share their success stories and trade information on redevelopment strategies. What has been lacking so far is the energy and the commitment to pursue the brighter future that many envision for Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and for the rest of the Midtown Redevelopment Area.