Earlier this week, News-Journal editor Pat Rice held one of the paper’s recurring coffee klatches to permit long-suffering residents another opportunity to vent on the perennial issue of blight and dilapidation on East International Speedway Boulevard – the main gateway to what was once The World’s Most Famous Beach.
Look, I like everything about these informal community get-togethers.
In my view, Mr. Rice’s meetings provide residents an opportunity to join together, talk issues, and provide grassroots suggestions – a rarity in Volusia County, where many municipal governments have joined county officials in creating an information black hole – where elected officials and senior administrators hide behind paid mouthpieces and anything of substance is cloaked in pithy releases or an institutional policy of never communicating with the working press.
Frankly, when it comes to the horrors of our languishing beachside, the sights, sounds and smells of our core tourist area that are slowly destroying our hospitality industry and driving long-suffering property owners out of the area – we’ve heard it all before.
That’s why I didn’t bother attending the News-Journal’s coffee on Tuesday.
Like many of you, I’ve talked myself hoarse – and nothing has changed.
And this recurrent civic disappointment is driving many more away from the discussion as well.
The end of my innocence began when the Volusia County Council brought our ‘best and brightest’ from the public and private sectors to the table for the ill-fated Beachside Redevelopment Committee – a Blue Ribbon task force comprised of everyone who is anyone in our social, civic and economic elite – with a firm mandate to find workable solutions to the malignant blight and dilapidation that was so desperately exposed in the News-Journal’s 2017 “Tarnished Jewel” series.
After nearly a year of hearings, substantive discussions and three-hour-plus information sharing sessions – Volusia County officials stepped in (literally at the eleventh hour) and neutered the committee’s recommendations with obscure, non-committal bureaucratese, such as, “Expand the opportunities to make the beach a year-round destination for all visitors,” and “Utilize prior redevelopment efforts to determine the feasibility and viability of new efforts…”
It took the wind out of my sails – and deflated the hopes of thousands of residents and business owners who put their faith in the personal and professional credibility of the committee members.
Instead, our fervent hope for substantive change was replaced with another worthless “See, we did something” political insulation report that now collects dust in Volusia County’s already groaning library of consultant reports, master plans and other expensive “recommendations.”
And, the idle coffee-talk and hand-wringing continues. . .
Along with the unanswered questions that naturally result in widespread frustration.
For some two-years now, our ‘economic development’ gurus over at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce have had a tantalizing video on their website which shows renderings and animation of happy people strolling a promenade of high-rise buildings and quaint shops on a futuristic East ISB – complete with an overlay of the new development – hailed as “An investor tool designed to showcase recent development along International Speedway Boulevard (ISB) and the future vision for East ISB.”
The video, produced circa February 2018, even features the crystal ball prescience of a traffic roundabout at Atlantic Avenue, by the way. . .
Yet, no one seems to mention this “future vision” whenever talk turns to East ISB.
Why is that?
(Don’t take my word for it, find it here: https://tinyurl.com/ttz2wvh – it’s located directly under the greasy, horribly redundant, marketing brands of Team Volusia, the CEO Business Alliance and Volusia County Economic Development Division.)
In addition, last year, the Florida Department of Transportation held informational meetings – complete with conceptual plans for a complete overhaul of East ISB – where residents were adamant that no one wanted a roundabout at the intersection of A-1-A and ISB – which just happens to be one of the busiest beach access points in the Halifax Area.
Now, we’re being told that plans are underway to build a roundabout. . .
In my view, it’s a nightmare in the making – one seasoned traffic engineers will tell you is tailor-made for gridlock – coupled with the fact the project could be moved up from the interminable three-year start date if a signalized intersection were authorized.
I don’t know – but I’m being told its because senior officials at the City of Daytona Beach – spurred on by our secret society over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – want it. (Along with even more money from FDOT for right-of-way. . .)
Another question is why Pat Rice is content to ignore these historical facts and topical developments while continuing to talk these tired issues to death – rather than holding those in a position of power responsible for this continuing debacle on the beachside?
For many who have hitched their wagon to the promise of “beachside redevelopment,” these hot air generators are becoming a waste of precious time. . .
In an October 2019 editorial, Mr. Rice wrote:
“It takes time to remedy the decades of neglect and problems that have allowed the beachside to become decrepit and crime ridden. Raggedy rental housing doesn’t improve overnight. Shops and restaurants don’t just sprout up because people wish for them. Everyone gets that. But there is such a thing as not trying hard enough. There is such a thing as flying too below the public’s radar. There is such a thing as not banging the drum loudly.”
How much more time do we have?