BY JAMES HARPER
Imagine a town center square in Daytona Beach located at the intersection of International Speedway Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The public square will be the cultural and commercial heart of Midtown. It will include shaded seating and gathering areas with fountains, public art and Black Heritage Trail destinations.
Imagine a new public park west of the existing Dickerson Community Center on existing Daytona Beach Housing Authority property. Land acquisition through “land swaps” between the city of Daytona Beach and the Housing Authority would be required for the project.
Lincoln Street would be overhauled to include a landscaped greenway, storm water/drainage infrastructure and a landscaped bicycle/pedestrian path that will form part of the Black Heritage Trail. Portions of the greenway may include community gardens that are planted and maintained by neighborhood and university organizations. Diagonal street parking would be added to the Bethune-Cookman University side of the street to enhance pedestrian activity and promote environmental safety.
And let’s not forget about the Howard Thurman Gardens, which would be located across the street from the historic Howard Thurman House on Whitehall Street. There will be a neighborhood garden and an elderly housing community.
Approved by commissioners
Members of the Midtown Redevelopment Area Board are hoping this is what the predominantly Black area of Daytona Beach known as Midtown will transform into over the next 50 years.
Though it took almost two years, hundreds of days and thousands of hours, the Daytona Beach City Commission approved the new Midtown Master Plan in less than 10 seconds at their Dec. 19 meeting.
The plan has created a foundation to revitalize the area, Daytona Beach Midtown Redevelopment Project Manager Charles Bryant said this week.
“We didn’t have anything in place before. We couldn’t get anything done. We always heard we didn’t have a plan. Now we have a blueprint where we want to go,” Bryant said.
‘Be part of the process’
Bryant was proud that he and others helped put down a foundation so residents after them wont have to start from scratch.
Residents are encouraged to attend a Jan. 7 workshop from 4 to 8 p.m. at City Hall. A consultant hired by the city will present a progress report after having talked with 25 stakeholders in the community, Bryant said.
“Don’t sit down and wait until we make changes. We don’t know everything. We are learning to.
Don’t come after everything has changed. Be part of the process. Don’t wait until the building is built to complain,” he demanded.
Bryant said it is the job of the consultant, who has been on board since Nov. 1, to bring the master plan into fruition.
The consultant, PMG, will present a strategic plan for commercial redevelopment in the Midtown redevelopment area that will provide a clear set of priorities, resources and specific actions that will result in successful implementation of plan.
According to the 90-page master plan, provided to the Daytona Times by Bryant, it is based on historical research, existing constraints and opportunities.
“The master plan and development standards chart a course for preserving the historic buildings, places and significant institutions in Midtown while creating incentives and quality standards for new growth.”
Midtown is located in the geographic center of Daytona Beach bordered by U.S. 1 and Nova Road east to west; and Shady Place to George Engram Boulevard south to north.
The plan identifies many challenges, including a deficit of business and home ownership and a decreased tax base in relation to other CRAs (community redevelopment areas).
No current ‘center’
In addition, the income levels are generally lower than the adjacent community; there’s a concentration of public housing; outdated infrastructure and inadequate storm water facilities; inadequate parks, playgrounds, recreation and public spaces; significant areas of vacant property; and a lack of basic services and shopping.
On top of that, the International Speedway Boulevard is a “cut through highway” that divides North and south Midtown; and there is no identifiable Midtown “center.”
During about six workshops, attendees have said what they want for Midtown – attractive streets with trees, businesses, nice streetlights, underground utilities and a family-friendly and livable community.
It also was noted during the workshops that Orange Avenue is used by Daytona Beach citizens as a shortcut between Nova and Beach Street to access Atlantic Boulevard. Crossing at International Speedway Boulevard was called dangerous and difficult for children who want to go to the local softball fields and large recreation center.
Even though there is a strong sense of community and desire to better Midtown among the key stakeholders, the groups have not formed a cohesive coalition. Flooding is a problem in certain areas; safety and livability needs improvement; and public housing areas are large and overly concentrated in the area.
How it began
The master plan was designed by Florida A&M University (FAMU) students and staff with input from the Midtown Redevelopment Area board, residents and businesses.
The process began on July 7, 2010 when the board, headed by resident Johnnie Ponder, endorsed the idea and approved a contract with FAMU to create the Midtown Master Plan.
Andrew Chin, Assistant Dean and Director of Architecture Programs at Florida A&M’s University School of Architecture and his colleague, Professor Craig Huffman, were invited to the Midtown board meeting to discuss their community outreach services and the possibility of creating a master plan.
More than a dozen graduate architecture students joined Huffman to survey the entire redevelopment area and interview residents and businesses. Several community workshops were held along with monthly updates at the Midtown board meetings.