On Volusia: The Big Whammy

There’s an old adage, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” 

Quite simply, the expression means its bad manners to inspect the teeth of a horse someone has given you – better to just say ‘thank you’ and be grateful to have received the gift.  After all, only an inconsiderate asshole would rob someone of the joy giving, right?

Well, call me an inconsiderate asshole – because I’m not sure I buy that analogy.

Especially when you are the one responsible for the care, feeding and upkeep of that horse for the next 50 years. . .

You see, I’m the naturally suspicious type – always questioning the why of things.

I also happen to believe that gifts that come with strings attached aren’t gifts at all – they are contractual agreements – a narcissistic power-play which ultimately benefits the ‘gifter’ more than the hapless recipient.

As Rachelle Sanders, producer and host of the “Science for the People” podcast wrote, “Giving can be an altruistic act, sure. But it can also be a symbol of power, dominance, and economic disparity.”

In my view, it can also be a thinly camouflaged “give with one hand, take with the other” scenario. . .

Of course, I’m talking about the recent $15 million “gift” from our own philanthropic savior, J. Hyatt Brown, who has been working overtime just to give us ill-mannered muzhiks a really nice park, which is guaranteed to salve all the civic, social and economic issues that have haunted Downtrodden Downtown Daytona like a golem – and deliver us from the squalor and desperation that has (strategically?) suppressed real estate prices in the area over decades.

A “gift” that comes with a $40-$50 million commitment from struggling taxpayers – who are currently being asked to pony-up an additional half-cent sales tax to cover a burgeoning infrastructure and utilities emergency that threatens to have us all drinking our own recycled sewage if we don’t agree to throw even more money at the same local governments that got us into this crisis in the first place. . .

“What are you talking about, Barker?”

“What brand of paranoid lunatic turns down a $15 million gift – you inconsiderate, shitheel!”

“J. Hyatt and Cici are like the Halifax area’s benevolent grandparents – they just want what’s best for us!”

“Like a loyal supporter said, “Where we’re headed is a place few of us can even dream about.”

Maybe so.

Or, just maybe, the grand Brown Riverfront Esplanade is simply a piece of a much larger puzzle, one that remains too fragmented to see the end result, which has nothing to do with us – and everything to do with facilitating a self-serving plan that will ultimately allow developers with all the right last names to exploit even more public land for private profit?

Don’t take my weird skepticism at face value – read the newspaper.

Last week, the intrepid reporter Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s excellent exposé, “Jewel for Sale? Daytona Beach looks to clear way for private development on City Island,” broke the shocking news that city officials have been “quietly working behind the scenes to get state restrictions on downtown riverfront property removed so they can ink deals with private developers interested in the public land.”

In my warped view, I believe forces well outside of our political control have been preparing the battlefield for years – beginning with the strategic rot and lack of substantive code enforcement that allowed large swaths of downtown to fall victim to blight.

Just look at a smattering of the evidence, and decide for yourself:

In December 2017, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm sent a letter to the city’s current host for itinerant vendors during Bike Week, informing them that their contract would not be renewed after Biketoberfest that fall.

Then, in January 2018, the Daytona Beach City Commission voted to terminate the agreement, which sounded the death knell for biker-related festivities on Beach Street – killing several local small motorcycle businesses in the process.

Places like the Lynnhurst Hotel – which for much of its 121 years – stood as a dilapidated flophouse, advantageously lowering property values next to the perennially vacant overgrown lot that would become the $60 million glass and steel headquarters campus of J. Hyatt’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary.

Then, days after the city’s chief building official issued an emergency condemnation order – just as ground was being broken on the Brown & Brown edifice – the Lynnhurst was quickly demolished and hauled off.

Just like it never even existed. . .

And remember when an obscure option by a third-party consultant to raze the City Island Court House (which was billed as an uninhabitable shithole, so inherently “dangerous” it can’t possible serve as a public facility) suddenly transformed into an off-the-agenda plan to build a $260-million Taj Mahal courthouse/office complex on Beach Street without any public input?

I do.

Then, last month, we learned of plans by the good ol’ boys investment club over at Consolidated Tomoka Land Company for their mysterious Project Delta “. . .a five-story “Class A” apartment building on the corner of Bay and Palmetto as well as a multi-story parking garage at Ridgewood and Bay, with both structures connected by a covered pedestrian overpass. The buildings would include street-level retail shops.”

Now, the citizens of Daytona Beach are on the hook for $800,000 annually for maintenance and upkeep of the Brown’s Esplanade – the gift that keeps on giving – which will serve as the perfect natural buffer between the ghastly condominiums, commercial shopping and office space that will flood City Island – once that deathtrap courthouse has been demolished, our historic ballpark “The Jack” has been bulldozed and those pesky “public purposes forever” deed restrictions are legislatively removed.

Like they never even existed. . .

In my view, this secretive “Grand Plan” formulated by what the News-Journal has described as our “Rich & Powerful” is being aggressively executed in an environment where our elected officials – in some disgusting Faustian bargain with their wealthy political benefactors – stand idle while those with a profit motive are allowed to do what they wish – while We, The People underwrite it all.

After some members of the Daytona Beach City Commission had the temerity to ask questions on behalf of their constituents – for the appearance, if nothing else – Mr. Brown testily quipped, “This is the most difficult time we’ve ever had giving away $15 million.”

“We’re willing to put our ass on the line to bring back downtown Daytona Beach.”

In my view, it’s us who are putting our ass on the line – and the very future of the Halifax area hangs in the balance – yet public input in this incredibly murky plan has been nonexistent.

At the end of the day, it’s not about us.

Clearly, there is money to be made off the moldering remains of Downtown Daytona – and you can bet your ass those who stand to profit won’t let us hapless yokels stand in the way of “progress.”

So, be prepared to pay the bills and keep your pie-hole shut.  The Big Boys don’t need our participation – just our money. . .

Trust me.  The Big Whammy is coming – and the anchor will take the form of a privatized City Island and an obscenely expensive courthouse complex near J. Hyatt’s monument to his own self-importance on Beach Street.

And there’s not a damned thing you or I can do about it. . .

How long will it take the electorate of Volusia County to realize who ultimately benefits – and who pays the bills – in this oligarchical system where public input in the future of our area is neither solicited nor wanted?


Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal




2 thoughts on “On Volusia: The Big Whammy

  1. Glad the post reveals some wiggle room, as there could certainly be some improvement, with this project, for the Beach Street area. Just think of what it could do for the location’s small businesses–the kind of businesses, IMHO, municipalities should reward. I hope to hear what the owners of those small businesses think of the proposal.

    Would also like to hear what Jack and Kelly White think.

    The one great sin, if it were to occur, would be the destruction of Jackie Robinson ballpark for at least three reasons:

    1. It is as important a site, in the history of the American civil rights movement, as Little Rock Central High School (early public school integration) or the former counter of Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, the site of the first 1960 anti-segregation sit-ins, now home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. It is already on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

    2. It is one of the most beautiful minor league stadiums in the country. The crowd at a 7:00pm summer game sees a sunset midway through the game, pelicans and ospreys flying above, the palm trees behind the park fluttering softly in the wind, the sparkling river beyond those, the ISB bridge looming nicely in the distance. It might just be the most romantic view of Daytona we’ve got.

    3. It’s minor league baseball. Even Orlando doesn’t have that.

    Terrific writing Mr. Barker, always enjoy it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s