There are many things that We, The People entrust to the care of our local government.
For instance, we expect that those we elect to serve our community will steward our hard-earned tax dollars to provide effective public protection, respond to emergencies, ensure safe potable water, maintain adequate transportation and utilities infrastructure, enact and enforce local ordinances that protect property values, conserve our natural places and enhance our collective quality of life.
We also have a right to expect that those who accept public funds to serve in the public interest will respect and maintain the integrity of our buildings and facilities – especially those that house essential government services or have historic significance to the community’s heritage.
Unfortunately, many years ago, Volusia County government patented a technique I like to call “strategic neglect” – a malicious practice that withholds preventative maintenance and upkeep at certain publicly-owned facilities – allowing them to essentially rot in place until they reach such a deplorable state of dilapidation that demolition and replacement becomes the only viable option.
Now, it appears the City of Daytona Beach is using the same tactic to further their narrow-minded vision of “economic progress” on City Island and beyond.
That’s sad, because once these historic places are destroyed they are gone forever.
Under this pernicious scheme, “progress” requires the sacrifice of properties which link our present to our past – and the idea of preserving and enriching our unique cultural heritage by incorporating our rich history into the modern landscape is dismissed as “too expensive” by arrogant politicians and short-sighted administrators who naturally know what’s best for the rest of us.
The practice is also used whenever local governments decide they need to expand or replace operational facilities, rather than renovate and repurpose existing assets.
The ruse usually begins with scary stories about changes to flood maps or other physical threats to the existing building – a nasty “mold” infestation or compromised structural elements – all while management purposely withholds funding for maintenance of the facility – allowing the elements to do the rest.
Then, when the public asset has deteriorated to the point it is no longer serviceable – outrageously inflated estimates for repairs are published – and the complicit elected officials tut-tut in faux astonishment about “priorities” and lack of funding – leaving razing and replacing the building as the only prudent solution.
In my view, it borders on official nonfeasance – the willful failure to perform a duty required by one’s office that results in harm or damage to public property.
It appears the City Island Recreation Center is the latest historic public facility to fall victim to strategic neglect.
According to a report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “At some point over the past 76 years, the charm of the structure a half block east of Beach Street got lost in rotting wood and a pervasive musty stench. The city-owned building has been closed for seven years now, and it’s plagued with mold, water damage, buckling floorboards and peeling paint. It’s boarded shut, and used only by termites, rodents and the occasional homeless person who slips into the crawlspace below the building constructed on pilings.”
The building was erected in 1943 as a dance hall to entertain American service members during World War II.
According to reports, the city was set to demolish the building last fall; however, a protest by area residents has given the historic facility a short stay from the wrecking ball.
Earlier this year, the city paid an engineering firm $25,000 to estimate the cost of renovations – and received a range of “$762,450 to $1.5 million.”
Naturally, the quote resulted in an immediate knee-jerk reaction from Commissioner Rob Gilliland (who seems to have his hand on every hot-button issue, yet never finds a workable solution to any of them?) who dashed the hopes of many when he said, “It is absolutely not a priority for me to spend $1 million. The likelihood of that (building) surviving is not good.”
Now, a veteran’s organization wants to save the structure and re-purpose it as a military museum.
Given its unique location near the proposed veteran’s memorial at the foot of the new Orange Avenue bridge, the center would be the perfect space to house displays showcasing the Halifax area’s contribution to the war effort.
And, like most privately managed projects, proponents say they can make necessary renovations for a fraction of the cost proposed by the City of Daytona Beach. . .
I guess what sticks in my craw is the fact city officials rolled over and pissed on themselves like incontinent lapdogs when J. Hyatt Brown asked for tens-of-millions in tax dollars to fund perpetual maintenance of the riverside park that fronts his new headquarters building on Beach Street.
Without so much as a vote on the issue, the citizens of Daytona Beach are now on the hook for $800,000 annually for maintenance and upkeep of the Brown & Brown 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, the City Island Rec Center has been flattened and those pesky “public purposes forever” deed restrictions are legislatively removed.
You see, this historic building isn’t compatible with some speculative developers’ screwy “vision” (or profit motive) for this incredibly beautiful piece of land, and, ultimately, that is why it is doomed to the “remember when” bin of Daytona Beach history.