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 Zion Gates, and some others, persevere in spite of the surrounding atmosphere. Towards Nova Road, recent investment has improved the appearance of an entire block. But other sections, especially the east end of the street near Ridgewood Avenue is 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 making the effort and improvements to secure long-term tenants. Like on Main Street, Bike events allow owners to bring in vendors and sell merchandise at a high profit in or 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 with a two-week effort annually? Following pressure from C4RD, 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; so far, we haven't seen this leverage exerted 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. Sadly, Commissioner Ruth Trager and her husband appear to fit under both this and the previous category. The couple, together, or separately, owns 14 units, all in the 300 block - one of the worst blocks on the street (see the list here.) The condition of their properties would seem to merit more action related to code violations than we have seen to date. 

 

the city has failed to invest in Midtown in proportion to other areas of Daytona Beach. A recent example of this disparity: $4 million allocated for narrowing Beach Street, a street that is attractive and useful in its current condition, complementing that expense with $800,000 per year for maintenance of the adjacent Riverfront Park, while "revitalizing" MMB by adding street banners and replanting dead trees. 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, but no effort has been made to declare it an historic property. 

 

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 Midtown CRA manager are well-attended and are appreciated by many for the community-building they create, these are no replacement for actual redevelopment activities. One recent investment by the CRA, a grocery study to pinpoint potentially profitable locations for a grocery store in Midtown, has been buried by 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 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

-- City acquisition, rehabilitation and marketing of key properties 

-- Aggressively promoted facade improvement loans or grants

-- Develop 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.

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