DAYTONA BEACH — For decades, city government officials have discussed ways to improve the historic core areas of the city and spent millions of dollars on master plans and consultants.
The meetings, plans and consultants have come and gone, but some of the business corridors targeted for improvements have only deteriorated.
Now Mayor Derrick Henry is leading a new push to improve those same areas, but with a new approach that begins with less complex goals and taps a portion of $7.5 million in federal COVID-19 recovery dollars already promised to the city.
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It will probably take a few years for all the pieces of the plan to take flight, but a few ideas could be launched this fall.
Henry spent nearly an hour at the July 21 City Commission meeting explaining the ideas he and city commissioners have been discussing the past few months. The suggestions were pulled together to create a strategy to improve Main Street, Seabreeze Boulevard, Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard, Ballough Road and Beach Street.
Some of the goals are universal for all five key city corridors. Others are tailored to a specific road’s needs.
The ideas include adding public art such as murals and sculptures, greatly improving outdoor lighting, and holding food truck events and festivals. New art could be something as simple as a repainted trash can or planter, chalk art or a high school student’s brightly colored drawing displayed in a storefront window.
Each neighborhood could create an iconic spot with something so visually interesting or historically important that it would make someone want to take a selfie.
Other ideas include giving businesses grants for facade improvements and landscaping, and creating small business incentive packages to attract new business. The corridors could also undergo needed pressure washing, painting and maintenance to freshen their look.
“I’m excited about it,” said City Commissioner Paula Reed. “I think it will give us a breath of fresh air. It will give people a reason to come here. It could be a tourist draw.”
To ensure quality public art is added to the streets, an Arts Alliance Board could be set up so proposed projects can be reviewed before a large new mural is added to the side of a building or a sculpture is allowed to be placed on the edge of a sidewalk.
The goal is to liven up the corridors and the streets around them, draw new commercial activity such as art galleries that give the areas a new vibe, and inspire business owners to spruce up their property.
The hope is they’ll become more interesting places that attract more visitors, and people will feel safer.
‘We’ve got to go to Midtown’
There is no formally approved plan yet, but what’s been discussed so far appears to have the backing of city commissioners.
“I’m in favor of everything that was proposed,” said City Commissioner Quanita May, whose zone includes most of the beachside, downtown and the northern end of Midtown.
May said she would like to see the plan expanded to include the residential areas around the main corridors. She said those residential areas are also in need of better lighting, tree trimming and other upgrades.
“We want to continue a few streets over so it all looks inviting,” said May, who lives on the beachside and runs a business downtown. “I drive around and I see lights covered by trees and lights out. Light seems like such a simple thing, but it does so much. It makes an area feel alive and safer.”
She said residents could be encouraged to turn on their porch lights, paint their front doors and plant flowers. She’d even like to use at least some of the new federal money to mow lawns.
“My position will always be, before we go to the extras, we take care of nuts and bolts,” May said. “We have an extended pandemic. Let’s take care of basic needs first.”
May said she supports forming arts districts, but she said city commissioners need to remember some local residents are still worried about paying for rent and food.
Reed said the idea of creating more public art in Daytona Beach has been discussed for a few years now. Mural renderings have been sketched, and some murals have already appeared on buildings around Beach Street, Seabreeze Boulevard and East International Speedway Boulevard.
“There are countless examples of this happening in Miami and Tampa,” said Reed, whose zone includes much of the historically Black Midtown neighborhood. “People go just for murals. We need to establish a brand. I want people to say ‘we’ve got to go to Midtown for food, art, culture and history.’ “
Making a $7.5 million shopping list
At least some of the improvements could be paid for with $7.5 million in Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds coming in from Washington, D.C. At their meeting Wednesday night, the mayor and commissioners will vote on a plan that details how those federal dollars can be spent.
Top city staff members drew up the plan after three public meetings were held last month to ask residents how they think the money should be divvied up.
The proposed plan suggests $1.85 million of that total $7.5 million would be set aside for the mayor and six city commissioners to recommend recovery efforts for their zones, or in the mayor’s case for the city at large.
The mayor would get $350,000 to work with and each commissioner would get $250,000 for their zone. Two commissioners could also pool their money to make a larger project possible.
The proposed plan also suggests another $1 million would go toward a small business facade grant program, and $152,202 could be spent on a small business landscape grant program.
An additional $300,000 could be funneled into outdoor art to rejuvenate the commercial districts and help business owners recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Henry suggests using half of the $300,000 to paint 30 murals. His idea was for each project to get $5,000, for a total of $150,000. The murals could be painted over the next two or three years and work could start later this year, he said.
The remainder of the $7.5 million — $4.2 million — could go toward developing and rehabilitating affordable housing, addressing educational disparities, and creating a small business equity, diversity and inclusion resource center.
“I am excited about staff’s recommendations for our Coronavirus Local Recovery Funds,” Reed said. “We would not have been able to bring these ideas to fruition without the assistance of these recovery funds. These funds will enable us to reach across our city, and with great rewards.”
The federal money will be a big help, but Henry said the ideas have been forming for 18 months — long before anyone at City Hall knew they would be receiving $7.5 million.
“It comes from a collection of community conversations I’ve been having and things city commissioners have brought up,” he said.
Even if the city didn’t have the new federal money, Henry said he would still be pushing the initiatives.
“The federal money allows us to go deeper on the art,” he said. “We want to make a bigger splash to help these areas recover from the scourge of COVID. We want to look back in 10-15 years and say this helped businesses recover.”
Let there be light
One of the improvements Henry has highlighted is increasing the amount of lighting on the major roadways targeted in the plan. He held up Beach Street as an example of a roadway that greatly improved its illumination with new streetlights and strings of white lights wrapped around the trunks of palm trees in the riverfront corridor’s median.
“Beach Street has great lighting at night. You feel safe,” the mayor said.
He contrasted that downtown roadway with Main Street, a beachside corridor that’s eerily dark after sunset on its western end and not much better farther to the east. Seabreeze Boulevard is better, but could also use a little extra illumination, he said.
Henry wants city staff to draw up a proposal to improve lighting on Main Street.
Bobby Honeycutt, owner of Froggy’s Saloon, is happy to hear the city wants to improve lighting on the road where he runs his bar. He said he already added extra lighting of various colors to Froggy’s.
“More street lighting would definitely help,” Honeycutt said. “Lights draw people in. I’ve got more lights than anyone on Main Street. I believe in being seen.”
He would love to see more decorative lighting added on the corridor, such as strings of white lights that could be wound around light poles and left up year-round. He said if an area or business looks “dingy and dark, people will be afraid to come in.”
Henry also wants staff to come up with a plan for other improvements on Main Street, which has gone from being packed with an array of businesses open year-round to a nightlife spot that mainly flourishes during special events and a handful of holidays.
“We need a renaissance there,” he said.
He hopes to see the city staff plans by the end of the year. Those plans will have to identify funding sources since the $7.5 million in new federal money can’t be used for everything that the mayor and commissioners are hoping will happen on Main Street.
Extra lighting can be a good start, but troubled corridors like Main Street need so much more, Henry said.
“You can’t just put lights in a dirty environment,” he said. “You can’t just fix it with lights. We need a major project.”
Henry said he’d like to see “a re-do” on Main Street like the one Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard recently underwent with a street repaving, new sidewalks and new streetlights. Beach Street, which just underwent an even more extensive makeover, could also be a model, he said.
He would also like to see property owners refurbish their Main Street bars, restaurants and shops.
“We’d have to hold businesses accountable to improve, too,” he said.
Honeycutt said he’s already made recent improvements to Froggy’s. But he doesn’t own the building he’s in, so a grant could motivate him to invest more in the property and help him save for a down payment to buy the bar.
Daytona getting more artistic
Main Street could also benefit from public art, as could the other corridors targeted in the ideas Henry outlined. Henry suggested setting up separate arts districts in several areas of the city, and funding them with the federal recovery money, property tax dollars collected in the city’s community redevelopment areas, and possibly private funding.
He said an Arts Alliance Board made up of professional artists could be set up to oversee three different arts districts and distribute funds.
Board members could use their expertise to choose the best public art projects, both for their artistic quality and potential to help a struggling neighborhood. Henry said he can envision a mural in Midtown that includes all of the stops on the Black Heritage Trail that runs through that community.
“Each area could have a distinctive mural,” he said.
Competitions could also be set up for kids to paint planters, Henry said. When sculptures, murals or public art are added to an area, new landscaping could be added around the area as well. Normally unused properties could be activated for festivals.
The mayor hopes it all leads to new art studios, outdoor musicians and more year-round businesses. Small business incentive packages could be set up to attract new entrepreneurs, he said.
Tammy Kozinski, owner of Sweet Marlays’ Coffee shop on Beach Street, said the building just south of hers was purchased recently and will become an art gallery. She said there’s also a group looking to open an art gallery on Ballough Road.
“There’s just a lot of interest in the area,” Kozinski said.
She said the person who’s opening the art gallery on Beach Street came for a wine walk there earlier this year and liked the area so much they decided to invest.
“They hope to get a mural that will be a takeoff on ‘Starry Night,’ ” she said.
Henry sees an opportunity for new art-related development to become a catalyst for economic investment and improve Daytona Beach’s appeal to potential new homeowners.
“If we want to attract homeowners to live near these areas we have to make them more attractive,” he said.
Public art could also create new tourism draws, such as murals and other forms of art “that express the history and heritage” of Main Street, Beach Street, Ballough Road, Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and the whole Midtown neighborhood, Henry said. Main Street, for example, could celebrate the city’s beach racing history, he said.
“Each could be a separate arts district, but part of an overall arts area,” Henry said.
Apps could be developed to tell the story of each area, he said. Tour businesses could also sprout.
He hopes the outdoor art is also accompanied by more outdoor music and dining.
Seabreeze Boulevard evolving
Rick Kitt has been pushing for public art in Daytona Beach for the past few months.
“We spearheaded that and presented it to the mayor,” said Kitt, who has teamed up with a local artist who runs a nonprofit.
Kitt is the owner of a row of businesses in Seabreeze Boulevard’s 300 block that include Daytona Tap Room, the Axe & Grog Pub and Evolved Vegan Kitchen. He already added a mural to one of his buildings, a tiki-themed painting on the Knock Knock bar. But he said “the city gave me hell for it.”
After an order to paint over the mural and a protracted fight with the city’s Code Enforcement Board, he was allowed to keep the mural that he had painted three years ago.
“Now they understand graffiti versus mural and art,” he said. “Art always brings something positive to any neighborhood.”
He has a mural rendering for the Axe & Grog Pub, and the wall he wants to put it on is already prepared with a flat black paint. He wants to create something that looks like a 1940s or 1950s postcard that says “Welcome to Daytona Beach,” and has iconic Daytona Beach images from the beach, Speedway and other local areas.
Kitt hopes the process to get public art approved can be streamlined.
“We’re 110% on board with an arts district,” he said.
Kitt agrees Seabreeze could also use some better lighting at night, and said signs directing people to businesses would also be helpful. He would also like to see an archway added at State Road A1A and Seabreeze that says Seabreeze District.
“I’m just trying to move forward with these ideas,” he said.
Seabreeze Boulevard doesn’t have as many vacant buildings and storefronts as it did several years ago, but it could still use some refurbishment and freshening up, the mayor said.
Henry said small business grants could be given out for new awnings on Seabreeze Boulevard. In exchange for the money the city would invest, businesses could step up and improve their properties, taking it upon themselves to paint and pressure wash as needed, he said.
The mayor said he would also expect code enforcement to “push harder” to keep improved areas looking good.
Henry said he’s sharing his ideas as well as the hopes of many residents he has spoken to.
“I consider myself to be a messenger and an advocate to say these are things we should be doing,” he said.