Just months before his death in 2015, at the conclusion of his 70th birthday celebration in beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina, the magnificent novelist Pat Conroy explained to his legions of loyal readers, “I have written books because I thought if I explained my own life somehow, I could explain some of your life to you.”
While I have nothing in common with one of the greatest literary virtuosos of our time, I understand his desire to use his own experiences to inform others, to stir a sense of introspection and consideration of what ‘community’ means, to use the written word to show our kinship and connectedness – especially during a time where everything in popular culture seeks to divide us.
Here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast, our lifestyles and economics may differ – but our shared experience cannot be ignored – anymore than closing the drawbridge at some gated community in Ormond Beach can shield those trapped inside from the ugly realities of the Halifax areas schizophrenic search for a civic identity.
Whether we want to admit it – from Ormond Beach to Ponce Inlet – we are all in this fetid mess together. . .
Some years ago, I published a blogpost entitled, “Daytona Beach: A Tale of Two Cities,” a crude study of our civic dichotomy – a look at the distinct halves of the same whole – the two markedly different communities that comprise Daytona Beach.
It was written at a time when the concept of Latitudes at Margaritaville – that faux-beach community in the palmettos and pine scrub west of I-95 brought to life by Canadian developer Minto Group – was being marketed to tens-of-thousands of 55-and-over Parrot Heads, and the mega-convenience store/destination Buc-ees was still on the drawing board.
At the time, Minto’s overenthusiastic Senior Vice President Bill Bullock squalled, “How could you not be ecstatic? On both the east and west of the interstate you’ve got incredible things happening – and they’re all complementary uses – it’s putting Daytona back on the map!”
As things progressed and the hype reached its crescendo, as is my habit, I turned my attention away from the crowd marveling at the “progress” on Boomtown Boulevard and looked over my shoulder at what remains of our core tourist area on Beachside – and our blighted established neighborhoods, such as Midtown, Downtown, and beyond.
Then I asked the darker question, “What will become of the rest of us now that the real money is moving west. Are we not all part of the same “Daytona Beach Resort Area?”
Unfortunately, the answer to that grim query is now crystal clear to anyone paying attention – and we remain horrible conflicted on just who, and what, we want to be – never more evident than in the woozy aftermath of the disastrous Truck Meet 2021 – a wide open debauch that may have been the final straw in a long series of obscene insults foisted upon area residents by quick-buck promotors and the stuck-on-stupid leadership of our challenged hospitality industry.
In my view, it has become equally clear that those entities we have relied on to craft a marketable product – such as the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, that good ‘ol boys travel club over at Team Volusia, the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce, or the redundant Volusia County Division of Economic Development (who are still advertising the exciting prospect that “One Daytona will be located directly across from the Daytona International Speedway,” a project that opened in 2017. . .) – have proven incapable of creating an appropriate image that complements the best strand of beach on the eastern seaboard.
For instance, on its website, “Team Volusia” still refuses to enact a key suggestion of the $100,000 2011 Volusia County Tourism Study by even acknowledging “hospitality and tourism” under its “Key Industries” section (although it does highlight our booming “motion picture/video production” trade. Am I missing something?).
Even News-Journal editor Pat Rice, gave a nod to the supreme importance of tourism in his Sunday editorial on the extent of the Daytona Beach Resort Area’s horribly split personality:
“Unfortunately, our No. 1 industry – tourism – pays low wages. Daytona Beach’s per capita annual income in 2019 was $24,360, and a quarter of the community lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”
In February 2020, the HAAA previewed a calamitous “new” advertising campaign – “Think You Know Daytona Beach?” – to replace the equally disastrous “Wide. Open. Fun.” debacle, a marketing ploy which continues to play on all the double-entendres and worst perceptions potential visitors have come to associate with the Fun Coast: “Endless Parties,” “Kids Getting Wild,” “Hitting the Clubs,” “Going Topless,” “All Day Beach Bashes,” and “Just a bunch of kids making pour decisions.”
My God. . .
According to a report by Jim Abbott writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, last week, the rudderless HAAA Board of Directors “decided to consider (?)” seating yet another committee to address the “destination’s long-term marketing vision.”
How many more bites at this rotten apple are we expected to give the demonstrably clueless HAAA – or any of the other redundant and unimaginative “advertising authorities” and self-serving “economic development” shills that, for decades, have failed to craft a sustainable image to promote our “No. 1 industry”?
Perhaps it’s time for the taxpayers of Volusia County to let our elected officials know that we are tired of throwing good money after bad supporting these farcical shams and repetitious “party town” marketing ploys – and demand a collaborative approach that encourages civic engagement and values community input in developing a comprehensive strategic vision for the future of the Halifax area, one that capitalizes on our many attributes – to write a story that explains to visitors the very best of our lives here – rather than catering to the prurient interests of fast-buck artists with a profit motive.
If not now, when?