by David Castagnacci
The cities of DeBary and Ormond Beach see a vibrant downtown as key to community living and togetherness.
Ormond Beach’s downtown extends 1.8 miles along Granada Boulevard from the ocean at Atlantic Avenue, going west across the Halifax River to Orchard Street west of US1 on the mainland. Meanwhile, DeBary leaders envision a new downtown surrounding the city’s SunRail commuter rail station, five nature parks and a major regional trail network.
While both cities are steeped in the history of Volusia’s early development, their paths to building downtowns are as different as their locations on the opposite ends of the county.
Ormond Beach has been continually progressing with redevelopment of the original downtown, while DeBary, largely a residential community, is striving to build its first downtown, including a Village Center.
Ormond Beach is a member of the National and Florida Main Street program, which is geared to assist communities in revitalizing historic downtowns through economic development based on preservation. As such, the non-profit Ormond Beach MainStreet promotes and markets the historic downtown, local businesses and numerous community activities – ranging from festivals, entertainment, arts and cultural events – to the weekly farmers market.
“We want our downtown to be a vital place in the community,” comments Ormond Beach MainStreet Executive Director Julia D. Truilo.
History, culture and the outdoors are a major focus of Ormond Beach downtown, blending well with a variety of retail shops, restaurants, art galleries and professional offices along the boulevard.
On the beachside, The Casements (home of legendary industrialist John D. Rockefeller) is now a community cultural center and riverfront park for events. The Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Gardens is undergoing a 4,484 square foot expansion, with restoration starting on the historic 1895 MacDonald House.
“Everybody now talks about historic preservation as ecologically important,” notes Truilo.
Waterfront parks and walkways surround the four corners of the Granada Bridge over the Halifax River. And during the past 25 years, Ormond Beach’s mainland downtown has experienced an impressive revitalization of numerous historic buildings along the .4 mile stretch of Granada between Beach Street and US1.
Practically all of the restored buildings are the works of Bill Jones, a devoted Ormond Beach resident who has a passion for Ormond’s downtown – and transforming old buildings into architectural works of art. What was once a bleak stroll down Granada is now a visual of crafted architecture ranging from Victorian and traditional to mid-century modern, Spanish / Mediterranean, Art Deco, contemporary and even kit house plans.
Jones, also owner of the nationwide Metra Electronics based in Holly Hill, does not consider himself a developer. “I consider myself more of a restorer,” he says. “I like to bring a building back to life. I can look at a wreck of a building and see its potential.”
Throughout the past 2 ½ decades, he has gradually purchased numerous older buildings as they became available – and tenants of the finished products run the gamut from restaurants and retail spaces to offices. “I wanted to get a mix of different types of buildings, with different styles,” he says.
Dorian Burt, Jones’ property manager, adds that “every one of Bill’s buildings has an art component,” be it the architecture, interior décor and paintings – or outside design features.
“Bill Jones is a champion for the cause,” comments Truilo. “He does this because he wants to see a vibrant downtown. I doubt that we would have gotten this far without him.”
All of downtown Granada Boulevard (beachside and mainland) is a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and thus far the emphasis has been on commercial enhancements. But Truilo sees the downtown expanding to focus more on residential. “Everyone realizes that walkable neighborhoods are essential to a successful downtown,” she says, noting that the residential area north of Granada is a designated historic district and there are positive signs with various residential properties being renovated. Many of them too are the acquired properties and restorations of Bill Jones. Jones (a New York native) says, “I feel like I was born to be here. It adopted me…this is my love here.”
DeBary’s origin is connected with the elaborate 1871 DeBary Hall estate. It was built by European-born wine merchant Frederick DeBary as a winter hunting retreat along the St. Johns River, visited by some of the nation’s wealthiest people and is now a historic site.
DeBary progressed through the 20th century mainly as an unincorporated residential area and didn’t become a city until 1993. Commercial Highway 17-92 runs through the city, but DeBary never has had a true downtown. City leaders are working vigorously to change that. They have developed a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Zoning Overlay District for the approximate 300 acres adjacent to the SunRail station, the most northern stop on the central Florida commuter rail system – and also one of the most used by riders. The district plan has gotten off the ground with development of an upscale apartment complex and an upcoming 150-home residential community. The designated Main Street and Village Center areas are included in the TOD District as a community gathering place and venue for activities and events – as well as shops, restaurants and professional offices.
“DeBary has a strong sense of community,” comments Shari Simmans, DeBary’s Communications and Government Affairs director. “The desire for a downtown is clear from the residents,” she says. City Manager Carmen Rosamonda agrees, noting that “we are focused on place making to strengthen our bond.”
Developer of the Integra 289 Exchange apartment complex is Integra Land Company, based in Lake Mary and developer of similar communities in emerging markets throughout Florida.“DeBary was a great fit for us in that the residents appreciated a high end quality project and saw the possibility of future commercial and shopping that could emerge from it,” comments Integra Principal David McDaniel.
Now, city leaders are working to attract commercial growth into the TOD and the envisioned Main Street and Village Center. They plan to contract with a broker to assist in marketing the commercial properties.
“DeBary’s niche is small business,” notes Rosamonda, stressing that the city’s population is changing rapidly – becoming a younger, family-oriented community with the highest median income in west Volusia. “Our focus in both the Main Street, TOD and throughout DeBary is to create more small business opportunities, such as specialty shops, restaurants, taverns, coffee shops, bakeries, offices for professional services.”
Nature and eco-tourism are another primary emphasis of DeBary’s downtown. “In the southern part of DeBary and TOD area alone, we are planning five major parks consisting of 624 acres,” notes Rosamonda, who also served on DeBary’s first city council and was mayor from 2000-2006. Aside from the 221-acre Gemini Springs county park, this includes other nature parks and trails that link to the state’s trails network. “DeBary is the trail hub of central Florida. The state of Florida is building 660 miles of trails in central Florida. There is only one place were all three trails converge, that is DeBary right at the TOD.”
Marketing “DeBary Naturally…More Than You Imagined,” Economic Development Director Wayne Clark promotes DeBary as a location where bicyclists can enter a trail and travel as far as Tampa / St. Petersburg, St. Augustine or Titusville.
“People don’t realize all of the attributes DeBary has to offer,” summarizes Communications Director Simmans.
David Castagnacci worked at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce for 31 years where he served as Executive Director of the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (VCARD), a non-profit association of planning and development professionals. Prior to that, he was a news reporter and New Smyrna Beach Bureau Chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.