B-CU and city looking to residents for park solutions, but locals still have concerns about partnership.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
A community meeting was held at B-CU’S Center for Civic Engagement last week to gain public input on the city’s planned upgrades to Joe Harris Park, a park located near the campus.
Joe Harris Park, a longtime community treasure located at 315 Pearl St., has over the years become a hotspot for crime and drugs. The park also is adjacent to the Biarritz Club, where two people were shot to death on New Year’s Eve.
Discussion about what to do with the park, also known as Harlem Park, included renovations and beautification, vegetation, irrigation, lighting, signage, upgrades to the playground, activities, and, of course, safety.
While residents were pleased to be in the loop, skepticism and distrust remains in regards to the city and school’s partnership relationship to the park.
Residents believe that a backroom deal has been made to give the park to the university but city leaders again squelched that last week.
“Joe Harris Park is owned and operated by the City of Daytona Beach,’’ L. Ronald Durham, the city’s community relations and special projects manager, said at the June 30 meeting.
“The city does not have any plans to transfer ownership of Joe Harris Park to Bethune-Cookman University, but does see the tremendous value in dialogue with B-CU to forge the kind of joint cooperation that can make the park and the surrounding community more attractive, and as a result engender more use by our citizens.’’
B-CU’s Vice President for Business and Community Development Dr. Aubrey Long stated, “Bethune-Cookman cares a lot about what happens in Daytona Beach and the surrounding community as a whole. This opportunity gives us a great opportunity to get involved in the community.’’
Still, the local NAACP leader and area residents voiced their frustrations.
“I’m glad about the attempts to hear from the community but one my biggest concerns can easily be fixed. We keep hearing about the B-CU and the city partnership but we need to make sure that people in the community are involved in these discussions about the park,” said Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia County-Daytona Beach NAACP.
Local business owner Barbara Turner-Hymes commented, “I can’t stand it. They keep whitewashing and expect us to accept it. This isn’t right. They lied to us about back dealing. Tell us like it is.
“B-CU has 4,000 students but we have way more taxpayers in this community. They took the last thing that we had in this area that was free. I agreed with the fence because it was needed. Our kids need access to that park. Cookman needs the park and the city is doing all that it can to give it to them. If it wasn’t for those new dorms, Cookman wouldn’t be concerned about the park.”
Noted community activist Norma Bland, “This community is non-trusting when it comes to the city.
People from the community need to be added to these decisions. We are taxpayers. B-CU students will mostly go back to their areas after graduation. We are still here. I rather it be turned into a community garden than see it be destroyed or taken away by a private institution.’’
But B-CU’s Dr. Long told the Daytona Times, “The university has no plans to own the park but we want to use any partnerships that we have in the community to increase the quality of life for the residents living in the 32114 area code.’’
B-CU on patrol
B-CU recently has constructed two new dormitories located on McLeod Street right next to the park.
In February, a fence was constructed at the park. Bethune-Cookman’a public safety officers now patrol the park, lock and unlock the gate and have access to the Daytona Beach Police Department’s (DBPD) radio frequency.
“We want to be a force and a multiplier for the DBPD. At the park and area around campus, we are their additional eyes. If we see something, we are calling it in to the DBPD. We have a great security partnership,” explained B-CU’s public safety director, Chief Melvin Williams.
DBPD noted that the criminal activity has slowed since B-CU’s security stepped in.
“There was a lot of activity there, which included drugs, drinking and fights. We’ve had very few incidents since then,” commented Daytona police Captain Jakari Young.
More meetings about improvements to Joe Harris Park are coming, officials say.