110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
It's final! DeLand is Central Florida's 'other' best Downtown
Celebrants gather for victory shout!
posted Dec 13, 2013 - 3:19:53pm
UPDATE 12:07 P.M. DEC. 16: WE DID IT!
DeLand claimed the title of Central Florida's "other" best downtown (other than Orlando), sweeping Mount Dora 17,346 to 8,414 when voting ended at noon today.
Celebrants gathered at the intersection of Woodland Boulevard and New York Avenue at the heart of Downtown DeLand to officially claim the victory.
Ruling out Orlando for sheer size, the Orlando Sentinel asked online voters to cast ballots to decide which among 16 Central Florida downtowns was the "other" best.
DeLand first duked it out with Sanford in a close race, then bested Winter Park in what some considered a surprise victory. Then, it was neck and neck with Winter Garden, but DeLand squeaked by, landing in the championship race with older and more-experienced Mount Dora.
See video of the celebration by The Beacon's Tim Parsons.
Check the final results at: http://interactive.orlandosentinel.com/bracket/otherdowntown/index.php
UPDATE 11:01 A.M. DEC. 16: With Downtown DeLand at 17,037 votes to Mount Dora's 8,322 one hour before the contest ends, DeLand city officials are preparing to celebrate Downtown DeLand's victory in the Orlando Sentinel online contest.
The contest asked Internet readers to decide the "other" best downtown (other than Orlando) among 16 towns in Central Florida.
The DeLand Police Department will stop traffic briefly at 12:01 p.m. today at the intersection of New York Avenue and Woodland Boulevard in the heart of Downtown DeLand, to allow for a brief celebration of DeLand's performance in the contest.
Everyone is invited to take to the streets for a few minutes of whooping and hollering.
Vote until noon today, or view the latest update: http://interactive.orlandosentinel.com/bracket/otherdowntown/index.php
REPORTED EARLIER: After duking it out with Sanford and Winter Park, then squeaking past Winter Garden, DeLand appears to be in an easy championship battle with Mount Dora on its way to winning fame as Central Florida’s “other” best downtown.
The contest is an Internet battle arranged by the Orlando Sentinel, which excluded Orlando itself as the automatic best and biggest, and set out to find the “other.”
“We've reached the final poll in our Other Best Downtown bracket. ... Now we've got Mount Dora versus DeLand. Two formidable opponents, but there will only be one winner,” according to the Sentinel’s promotion for the contest.
Over the past several weeks, website visitors have been asked to cast votes for the best among 16 Central Florida downtowns. The contestants ranged from manufactured town centers like Celebration and Baldwin Park to towns with authentically historic central business districts like DeLand and Eustis.
In the end, the historic, organic downtowns won out over the newbies. Mike Riggs, a writer for The Atlantic Cities, noted as much in his piece about the Sentinel contest.
“Authentic downtowns, for all their warts, have plenty of appeal even in the capital of the manufactured community,” Riggs wrote.
Riggs also mentioned that he voted for Downtown DeLand, which he describes as “a smallish college town where I spent four years eating and drinking.”
A lot of others are voting for DeLand, too. On Friday afternoon, Dec. 13, DeLand was walloping Mount Dora, with 9,117 votes to its Lake County opponent’s 4,369.
Mount Dora Mayor Cathy Hoechst (pronounced “hoax”) found a little irony in the fact that, Friday morning, she had just given a tour of her city’s event facility, Lake Receptions, to a contingent from DeLand. The DeLandites, looking forward to opening DeLand’s own event facility at Earl Brown Park in 2014, were in Hoechst’s town hoping to learn from older and more experienced Mount Dora.
“DeLand has done a lot … focusing on its downtown, and it’s starting to pay off, and that’s great,” Hoechst said. “Mount Dora has had it for years.”
Indeed, at the beginnings of Downtown DeLand’s MainStreet program more than two decades ago, one of the often-voiced goals was to be more like Mount Dora.
“I think, early on, they had it together,” DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said. “For a long time, it was the significant small town in Central Florida that attracted visitors from throughout the region.”
Apgar and others said DeLand’s connectedness and civic spirit may give it the edge in the Sentinel contest.
“There has been a tremendous amount of community pride,” Apgar said.
Both Apgar and Hoechst agreed that family-friendly events have helped drive the popularity of their towns.
Hoechst pointed out that Mount Dora has been in the event business for a long time. Its bicycle festival will turn 40 in 2014, while its craft festival will celebrate its 30th year, and the Mount Dora Plant and Garden Show will turn 20.
Downtown DeLand’s oldest event is likely the Jaycees Christmas Parade, which just had its 65th run. Most of the town’s festivals, however, are much younger.
Like Mount Dora, Hoechst said, DeLand has done a good job of preserving its small-town atmosphere and events that create great family memories.
“The things you really want your kids to remember,” she said.
DeLand City Manager Michael Pleus said DeLand has another advantage in the contest, in that it was the only Volusia County city selected. Consequently, in addition to tremendous support from Internet voters in DeLand-area businesses and organizations, Pleus said, East Volusians also were helping.
“Daytona International Speedway, even NASCAR was voting for us,” Pleus said.
Orlando Sentinel writer Beth Kassab said she and a team at the newspaper conceived of the contest as a way to get people talking about downtowns and what they like about them.
Kassab, herself a former DeLand resident, said she wasn’t surprised when DeLand beat Winter Park, which some thought would be a formidable favorite.
“I think a lot of people probably thought Winter Park was a sure bet,” Kassab said.
However, amassing votes may depend on something other than a town’s reputation.
“I think it really speaks to the level of civic pride,” she said.
Pride deteriorated into mudslinging on the comment section of the Sentinel’s downtown-contest Web page. Accusations by Mount Dorians about cheating on the part of DeLand prompted MainStreet DeLand Association Executive Director Wayne Carter to ask the Sentinel to delete some of the comments, and the Sentinel said it would.
In general, though, Carter is pleased with the publicity DeLand is getting from the contest, and encouraged about the town’s ability to win when the final votes are counted at noon Monday, Dec. 16.
“I’m excited,” Carter said. “I feel like we really have the kind of community here where people get involved.”
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