“Oh, somewhere in the favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.”
–Earnest Lawrence Thayer
I wanted to be wrong. I really did.
Last summer, when what became known as the “Grippa Committee” was charged by the Volusia County Council with developing a comprehensive revitalization strategy for the Halifax area’s struggling beachside, I wrote an unfortunate prediction about the group’s ultimate efficacy:
“Set your watch – I’m going on the record right now: The much ballyhooed “Tony Grippa Beachside Redevelopment Committee” will have absolutely no substantive impact on the future stability and revitalization of our long-suffering beachside and core tourist areas.”
Look, I hate to say I told you so.
As I’ve previously written, part of the fallout from the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s embarrassingly accurate exposé, “Tarnished Jewel” – an outstanding investigative series which examined decades of government ineptitude, blight and stagnation on Daytona’s beachside – was that our elected and appointed officials in Volusia County formed the Beachside Redevelopment Committee, comprised of our “best and brightest” minds from the public and private sectors, with a clear mandate to formulate a workable solution to the festering squalor that is our core tourist area.
The group – lead by the very capable former Brown & Brown senior executive Tony Grippa – was, in my view, a bit unwieldy in its composition, but I suppose that was necessary to accommodate all the right last names and give at least the visual impression that all local interests were covered.
They were heavy-hitters – people like Consolidated Tomoka’s John Albright, Dr. Kent Sharples of the CEO Business Alliance and, perhaps the most powerfully connected of all, Ms. Maryam Ghyabi, representing the House of Hossieni – among other notables.
Real ‘Movers & Shakers.’
I felt the most important members of this committee – the only ones with institutional knowledge of the serious issues facing our most precious natural amenity – were long-time beach advocate Paul Zimmerman, and Dave LaMotte, a businessman who has carved out a living on the beachside for many years.
Unfortunately, at the group’s introductory meeting, Mr. Grippa put Zimmerman and LaMotte in their place by explaining the committee’s mandate required that they “steer away from beach issues.”
Specifically, Mr. Grippa announced, “Beach management is not within the purview of the committee. Certain issues have kept the community from developing. Let’s start with things that can bring the community together,” as a choir softly sang Kumbaya in the background.
Once those words were uttered, many of us saw the handwriting on the wall.
The fact is, one simply cannot separate Volusia County’s horribly failed beach management policy from the deteriorating social, economic and physical conditions on the peninsula.
We have arrived at a place where locals and visitors are required to pay a duty of $20.00 per day for vehicular access to our public beach, the areas century-old draw of beach driving is under direct attack by speculative developers with a profit motive, and our power brokers refuse to acknowledge their failed strategy of a “panacea project” while some 213 beachside properties sit vacant or dilapidated.
It has dissolved into a weird, totally opaque and secretive policy, with whispers of a mysterious “Boardwalk extension,” and scary stories of expiring federal permits and environmental conditions which will conspire to finally remove cars and turn the strand into a semi-private amenity for even more gaudy “theme” hotels.
Given the make-up and mandate of the Grippa Group, like many of you, I came to have high hopes that – if any group could affect positive change, provide effective leadership and identify specific solutions – it was this impressive assembly of strength and power.
Then – Superman, meet bureaucratic Kryptonite.
In my view, things hit the skids for the committee when Volusia County’s Director of Growth & Resource Management, Clay Ervin, was tapped to compile the report.
The fact is, when dealing with government – “staff” can make you, or break you.
As a former shameless government bureaucrat, I suspect Mr. Ervin’s overriding concern from the inception of this committee was in crafting the final report in a manner that avoided any possible responsibility and sidestepped all accountability for himself, his department or the elected and appointed officials who provide what passes for oversight in Volusia County government. Period.
Of course, that requires the masterful use of vagaries and non-substantive governmentese – jargon such as, “expanding opportunities,” and “determining feasibility” – malleable, nonsensical terms that say nothing and mean nothing.
So, after 10-months of wasted time and motion, I have listed here the (proposed) recommendations expected from our Blue Ribbon committee:
- Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors.
- Utilize prior redevelopment efforts to determine the feasibility and viability of new efforts to attract the type of redevelopment targeted by the individual cities (Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Shores and Ormond Beach).
- Improve the coordination among the cities and Volusia County in order to efficiently and effectively maximize revenue opportunities that benefit the entire county.
- Improve the perception of the entire region, with a focus on a variety of residential, recreational, cultural and entertainment opportunities in the area.
- Protect and enhance the existing residential neighborhoods that make Volusia County unique.
- Provide for effective use of grants, fund transfers and other funding sources to install and update critical infrastructure at the right time and at the right place, in order to spur targeted redevelopment.
- Create the vital link between the mainland and the beachside so that a “live-work-play” sense of place can be used to attract quality targeted industries to the area.
Well, there you have it.
You can read the rest of the pap and fluff Mr. Ervin whipped into the mix – bureaucratic bullshit that is completely devoid of depth, substance or specifics on the Volusia County website.
Visionary? My ass.
Where are the funding sources and entrepreneurial investment strategies?
Where are the names of the planners, developers and investors identified by the committee who have successfully turned around other similarly situated resort areas?
Where are the management priorities for the specific, targeted projects we were expecting?
At the end of the day – I am truly saddened to say – absolutely nothing was accomplished, with the exception that poor Tony Grippa has now become the face of one more miserably failed attempt to revitalize our core tourist area and save us from ourselves.
Instead, our fervent hope for substantive change has been replaced with another worthless “See, we did something” political insulation report that will collect dust in County Manager Jim Dinneen’s already groaning library of consultant reports, master plans and “recommendations.”
Perhaps the Grippa Report can bookend the 2011 tourism study wherein the Volusia County Council paid $100,000 to an out-of-state consultant to conduct a review which concluded that our beachside “tourism product” was a serious impediment to attracting visitors and economic development, “…there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved.”
“Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline. An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”
Ah, there’s that “Leadership and Vision” thing again. . .
Sorry, guys – we’re doomed.
The Mighty Grippa has struck out.
(Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal)