The Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”
As we grow older, some of us gain perspective as well – a civic point of view based upon our memories of the past.
On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s editorial board took a long reach in a piece entitled, “Beach Street renaissance,” which began:
“There was a time when Beach Street was the thriving heart of Daytona Beach — a place where people could live, work, shop, eat and have fun, all within walking distance.
And that time is … about five years from now.”
The fact is, when I was a young boy, downtown was exactly as described.
A flourishing place – anchored by the major retailers of the day – with a plethora of boutiques, restaurants, specialty shops, upscale clothing stores, a movie theater and rows of beautifully appointed windows displaying the merchandise within.
At the end of any shopping trip, if you were “good,” your mom would take you to the toy store at Dunn Brothers. Extraordinary.
Across the street was an attractive park, complete with landscaped greenspace, interesting monuments, a bubbling artesian spring which flowed cool sulfurous water into ponds surrounded by inviting benches – all interconnected by meandering walkways.
An almost universally shared experience enjoyed by everyone who came of age in the Halifax area in the 1960’s and early 70’s.
Suddenly, everything changed.
In the fall of 1974, for what I’m sure was the best of intentions, our ‘powers that be’ welcomed the Volusia Mall on what is now West International Speedway Boulevard – and, within the year, both Sears and JC Penny closed up shop and relocated to shiny new stores at opposite ends of the mall.
And, downtown Daytona Beach joined thousands of other traditional Main Streets and business districts across the nation in a slow, but steady, descent into neglect and squalor.
Once bustling sidewalks became the realm of homeless mendicants – with the accompanying sights, sounds and smells that registered the death knell of a once proud and prosperous civic core – while dying shops who were left behind tried in vain to remain relevant in a disloyal retail environment they couldn’t possibly understand or change.
Despite fits and starts, Beach Street would never again see the level of success it enjoyed prior to the day the fabric of our community changed forever.
However, the bones of something great remained.
A beautiful riverfront with beachside access, ample natural spaces, a historic baseball park, a nearby marina and fashionable buildings which retain the class and appeal of a time that simply cannot be recreated.
It was the perfect canvas for a resurgent effort to rebuild and revitalize downtown – and perhaps the rest of our beleaguered community – with a ‘whole community’ vision that would incorporate the best ideas, efforts and input from those of us who call the Halifax area home.
Those who remember what was, and envision what could be. . .
Something we could collectively take credit for with “Look what we did!” buy in.
A collaborative process that allows residents to take ownership and build pride in place as they help revitalize a civically important area following years of strategic rot.
But that’s not how things work here.
Screw your “community building” bullshit, Barker.
We know what’s best for you – and we have the money to prove it. . .
So, we are forced to watch the behind-closed-doors birth of “Hyattona” – a contrived community center all built to adorn an out-of-place, unimaginative glass and steel monument to one man’s self-importance – a classless modern monolith that will house operations for His Majesty King J. Hyatt Brown’s billion-dollar insurance intermediary.
Once again, our elected and appointed officials are following in lockstep conformity – oohing and ahhing with each new reveal – acting as though they haven’t been given the script in advance as they rubber stamp the next demand and acquiesce to secretive projects proposed by Consolidated Tomoka, pushing ahead with plans for P$S Paving to narrow Beach Street while developers announce yet another “dense cluster” of hotels, boutiques, parking garages and specialty shops which will, of course, compliment the Brown & Brown headquarters.
Back in the spring of 2017, I explained a theory based upon mounting evidence that our ‘powers that be’ secretly constructed a “Grand Plan” for the future of the Halifax area – something those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence knew nothing about.
In my warped mind, this well-orchestrated blueprint was hatched by a few of Volusia’s powerful political insiders – the uber-wealthy donor class who have gained near total control of our democratic processes through massive campaign contributions to hand-select candidates – and are using the resultant political clout to craft our community in their image.
As the onion is slowly peeled on what our future will look like – I hate to say I told you so – but it looks like my weird suspicions were true – and I suspect we will see City Island in play soon. . .
No one really cares what you and I think about the revitalization of our downtown.
Because it’s not about us.
In my view, the new concept community of “Hyattona” was set in stone the minute Mr. Brown stood before the Daytona Beach City Commission last week, and, for the umpteenth time, arrogantly waved his money under their noses (“We don’t view the $18.3 million as a gift, we view it as an investment”), after all it’s one thing to “gift” a park to the residents of Daytona, but quite another to use that “gift” to demand tax funded maintenance, ramrod an intrusive road project and procure other expensive public concessions and ancillary development to benefit your new office building.
Word to the wise: Whenever someone repeatedly reminds you, to the penny, how much he or she has “gifted” you, it comes with strings attached. . .
Interestingly, the same area of downtown currently being developed in honor of one man’s legacy is set atop the ruins of another man’s search for civic immortality.
Way back in 1914, Charles Burgoyne, an uber-wealthy Daytona Beach printer, paid for street lighting and contributed money for many civic improvements – including a 10-foot-wide paved sidewalk known as the “Burgoyne Esplanade” – between Orange Avenue and Bay Street, along with a thriving music venue, a park pavilion and free concerts at his mansion.
Following Mr. Burgoyne’s death in 1916, his wife, Mary, lived in the rambling mansion – “The Castle” – for another 25 years until she and two servants were unceremoniously evicted by the new property owner, a Jacksonville businessman, and moved to a beachside apartment.
Then, the mansion, with its ornate wall and outbuildings, was demolished and hauled away – while property developer, Burgoyne Properties, built and leased twenty commercial buildings on the site of Mr. Burgoyne’s legacy. . .
Perhaps Mr. Brown, and the other ‘movers & shakers’ who are forcing their self-serving vision on the rest of us in downtown Daytona and beyond should realize that, in the end, all fame is fleeting – and forcing change on a suspicious and unwilling constituency only lasts as long as voters permit it.