Geriatrics like me who grew up in the Halifax area can remember a tangible connection to the City Island Recreation Center – civic events, dance recitals, musical performances, shows and socials – and during my professional life I frequently attended meetings there.
It was a unique setting near the yacht basin – a place of, and for, the community.
Now, many are rightfully angered by its dismal, and avoidable, fate.
On Wednesday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal asked the question, “City Island Rec Center: Restore or demolish it?”
That troubling enquiry came with a disturbing caveat: The cost of saving the historic building on the banks of the Halifax River on the Orange Avenue causeway could now reach $2 million.
The sad fact is, that decision has already been made for us.
For most of my adult life I served the City of Holly Hill, Florida.
Our essential services and administrative offices were housed in a beautiful City Hall facility that is now 80-years young and going strong. Given current trends of planned obsolescence and designed disposability, you are probably asking yourself ‘how could a small town government building possibly remain serviceable for over three-quarters of a century’?
Responsible caretakers of public assets call it ‘preventive maintenance’ – much like your own home requires – a moral and fiduciary responsibility that, when spread over time, is an economical way of ensuring publicly owned buildings and resources remain functional, efficient, and effective.
It is also called having pride in your community.
There are many important things that We, The Little People entrust to the care of our local governments.
For instance, we expect that those we elect and appoint to serve our interests will steward our hard-earned tax dollars in a manner that provides effective public protection, responds to emergencies, ensures safe potable water, maintains adequate transportation and utilities infrastructure, plans for growth, enacts and enforces local ordinances that maintain property values, conserves our natural places, and enhances 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, facilities, and other tangible assets – especially those that house essential government services or have historic significance to our community’s heritage.
Unfortunately, many years ago, government patented a technique I like to call “strategic neglect” – a malicious practice that withholds preventative upkeep at certain public facilities – allowing them to rot until they reach such a deplorable state of dilapidation that demolition and replacement becomes the only viable option.
Unfortunately, it appears the City of Daytona Beach has used this same destructive tactic to further someone’s narrow-minded vision of “progress” and eliminate the City Island Recreation Center – a once beautiful structure of great significance to the Halifax area’s ties to the war effort.
That’s sad, because once these historic places are destroyed, they are gone forever.
Under this pernicious scheme, “progress” and “economic development” often require the sacrifice of public 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.
So, they simply breach their duty and fail to act or use due care – a strategic negligence committed in plain sight that allows public property to fall into dangerous disrepair.
And no one who should seems to care.
Typically, the practice is 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 building – a nasty “mold” problem, rodent infestation, or compromised structural elements round out the tale – all while officials purposely withhold funding for maintenance of the facility then allow the elements to do the rest.
Then, when the public asset has deteriorated to the point it is no longer salvageable – outrageously inflated estimates for repairs are published – and the complicit elected officials tut-tut in faux astonishment about “priorities” and a “lack of funding” – with razing and replacing the building as the only prudent solution.
Sound familiar? It should.
Now, the fate of the City Island Recreation Center is sealed after more than a decade of strategic neglect – its interior in shambles and structural integrity compromised to the point I had a tough time distinguishing the documentary photographs published in the News-Journal from images of bomb damage in Kyiv. . .
According to the report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean:
“At a meeting last week, City Commissioner Ruth Trager made an impassioned plea to keep the structure standing and restore it. City Commissioner Ken Strickland also argued for a stay of execution and a chance to fully renovate it.
But Trager and Strickland were outnumbered by the five other commissioners who said it’s not worth the estimated $2 million it would take to save the nearly 80-year-old building. City Commissioner Paula Reed said she’s “just not willing to spend that.”
“We need to be better stewards of city facilities … but I am not in favor of saving this building,” Reed said. “I think we need to count our losses and just do better from this point forward.”
Count our losses? Just do better?
What about the concept of oversight, responsibility, and accountability?
I am always taken by the fact that our ‘powers that be’ have no qualms about gifting tens-of-millions in public funds to all the right last names – with city and county officials rolling over and pissing on themselves like incontinent lapdogs whenever our “Rich & Powerful” demand tax incentives and corporate welfare packages to underwrite their for-profit ventures – yet an expenditure to preserve a threatened piece of our local history is never a “wise investment.”
When did we stop holding current and former administrators, department heads, and elected officials who look the other way responsible for what amounts to official nonfeasance, an intentional failure to perform a duty or obligation that one is required to perform as a paid caretaker of public funds and assets?
What we allow is what will continue.
This staggering level of incompetence, deliberate waste, and resource mismanagement at all levels of government is not limited to one historic building in Daytona Beach. In my view, it represents a continuing, almost institutionalized, lack of substantive oversight by our elected officials that allows this calculated course of conduct to continue.
We deserve better.
Vote like your quality of life depends on it.