Several dozen DeLand residents, business owners and others interested in the redevelopment of the Old Volusia County Jail site showed up to speak at a meeting Monday, but they’ll have to wait another month-and-a-half to air their concerns in public.
The DeLand City Commission and Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) were scheduled to consider a memorandum of understanding — the first outlines of a deal — between the city and Deltran Operations USA Inc., the company tapped in December to redevelop the long-disused correctional facility into something new.
Deltran, a manufacturer of battery chargers and related accessories currently based on International Speedway Boulevard in DeLand, plans on turning the site into GlassHouse Square, a mixed-use development, into which the company would move its corporate headquarters.
The memorandum of understanding (or MoU) isn’t designed to be the final agreement between the city and Deltran for the project; rather, it’s a general outline of what elements should be included in a formal development agreement.
The MoU was set to be considered and voted on Monday by the CRA board, made up of the five members of the DeLand City Commission and two Downtown business owners, and by the City Commission itself immediately after.
City staff allocated an hour for the CRA to consider the proposal, but Mayor Bob Apgar was caught off-guard by the number of members of the public who came to speak on the topic.
“A concern has arisen about the amount of time we have allocated to this discussion,” he said. “I think that’s valid, with the number of speaker cards and people here.”
About a dozen people in attendance signed up to speak before the board. Many were West Georgia Avenue business owners or people otherwise involved with the SoNY District.
Conrad Realty Co. President Barb Shepherd, whose company owns land directly east of the Old Jail site, helped raise awareness of the meeting.
“I think I probably invited several of these people tonight, and I just want to point out that what you’re seeing here is the spirit of Georgia Avenue,” she said. “I think many people have come here with a lot on their heart and a lot of important things to say, and I don’t think there’s enough time for that.”
Conrad Realty submitted a competing proposal for redeveloping the Old Jail, dubbed Courthouse Marketplace, which would have reused part of the existing jail building.
The company’s proposal took inspiration from urban markets like Orlando’s East End Market and Chelsea Market in New York, and centered around creating spaces for small and very small businesses, along with event space.
The city’s selection committee ranked Conrad Realty’s proposal second out of the three submitted.
In December, the City Commission voted 4-1 to select Deltran’s proposal for the Old Jail site over Conrad Realty’s, and one submitted by E2L Real Estate Solutions LLC of Winter Park.
Given the public interest in the topic, a special joint meeting of the CRA and the City Commission was set for Tuesday, May 28, at 6 p.m., to provide more time for members of the public to speak their piece about the project.
— Editor’s note: Conrad Realty Co. President Barb Shepherd is also publisher of The West Volusia Beacon.
The outlines of an Old Jail deal, as it stands now
While members of the public will need to wait to provide feedback on the project at a meeting, members of the CRA and commission expressed their concerns Monday.
Under the deal as presented, Deltran would agree to develop the site as follows:
— Deltran would construct a 30,000-square-foot building along West New York Avenue, which would contain 10,000 square feet of retail/commercial space, 10,000 square feet for the company’s headquarters, a 10,000-square-foot “Innovation Center,” and a rooftop event space.
— Another 8,100-square-foot building fronting West Georgia Avenue would contain an 1,800-square-foot space intended as an art gallery, five artist’s lofts, and more commercial/retail space.
— “GlassHouse Alley,” running between New York and Georgia avenues, would connect the two ends of the project, and a public green space featuring a splash pad would sit in the middle of the property, between the two buildings.
— In all, the city projects the company would invest $4,687,750 to construct the first phase of the new project.
— A subsequent phase, which would see a building constructed on a former county parking lot on the south side of West Georgia Avenue, would be subject to a separate agreement between Deltran and the city in the future.
As the deal currently stands, GlassHouse Square wouldn’t come cheap to taxpayers, however.
The city would have obligations of its own:
— In exchange for agreeing to build the first phase of the project, the city would give Deltran the Old Jail property, valued at $645,492, for free.
— The city would pay the cost to demolish the aging, asbestos-ridden building, at a cost of $300,000.
— Additionally, the city would agree to build a public parking lot where the city’s fire station currently stands, at a cost of $250,000 plus $50,000 for demolition. The city is currently in the planning stages for a new fire station, which would be built on the former site of the DeLand Elks Lodge at 150 S. Clara Ave.
— DeLand would also be required to maintain the splash pad in the open-space portion of GlassHouse Square.
— Most onerous for some commissioners, however, would be a tax rebate for the portion of the property containing Deltran’s new headquarters and the Innovation Center.
For the first 10 years, on that 20,000 square feet of the project, the city would pay Deltran a rebate amounting to 80 percent of DeLand and Volusia County ad valorem property taxes paid into the Downtown DeLand CRA fund.
The rebate, which City Manager Michael Pleus estimated could amount to about $25,000 per year at 80 percent, would decrease to 75 percent in year 11, and decrease by 5 percent each year thereafter through year 14.
Commissioners give initial reactions
Many of the commissioners at Monday’s meeting expressed discomfort about the proposed memorandum of understanding, particularly regarding how much tax relief would be given to Deltran.
Commissioner Chris Cloudman took issue with several parts of the agreement.
“I think we’re devaluing what we’re giving to begin with,” he said, referring to the transfer of the property for free to Deltran.
He also said the city’s estimated costs for demolition, and for building a new parking lot on the site of the fire station, were too low, in his opinion.
Cloudman also disagreed with the city taking on management of the splash pad, citing liability issues.
“A splash pad downtown — I don’t know where the desire on that is coming from,” he said.
He also noted that in the past, the city has conditioned ad valorem property-tax incentives on companies bringing new high-paying jobs to DeLand — something that wouldn’t immediately happen with Deltran’s project.
“It’s talked about with new high-paying job growth, or reaching certain milestones,” Cloudman said. “Up until now, I’ve heard no justification of what we’re doing with [the incentives]. The jobs coming in are jobs that already exist in DeLand.”
Vice Mayor Charles Paiva echoed some of Cloudman’s concerns, saying he was expecting a project that would be more “monetarily neutral” for the city.
Multiple commissioners were also concerned about the parking situation around the area during and after construction.
Currently, the Old Jail site and a former Volusia County parking lot across the street from it are used as parking for employees and customers of nearby businesses.
The lot on the south side of Georgia Avenue is slated to be used as a construction staging area for the first phase of the project, tying it up and potentially creating a parking crunch in the area.
City officials said a revised memorandum of understanding will be drafted and brought back in time for the May 28 meeting.
NEXT PAGE: Read reaction from two Georgia Avenue businesspeople.
Thoughts from two Georgia Avenue businesspeople
‘Change for the sake of change’
“On a checklist of common sense, practicality, sustainability and fiscal benefits, this proposal falls way short …
“The vision that Deltran Co. has for their presence on Georgia Avenue seems counterintuitive to everything that has been building here over the past several years.
“Apartments in a downtown entertainment district? In the heart of it, even? Being an established cornerstone for many events and concerts, this area is constantly in the midst of music, entertainment and fun activities. In short … noise.
“Will future residents be inclined to deal with the consistent and at times into the night noise and activities? …
“Two large buildings in the heart of the Georgia Avenue district … adjacent to the Trilogy Coffee building, creates an almost ominous shadow across the area. But at least the city is given concession with a small open park area on the complex, which is apparently maintained at the taxpayer’s expense, on private property.
“What is the need for such a large presence right on Georgia Avenue?
“Are there not other properties near the downtown district that would better serve such a complex as Deltran is proposing? Perhaps the site of the current fire department that is scheduled to be moved? Or the Bank of America complex? Or the property just west of the Putnam? … ”
“Perhaps I’m just being a grumpy resident. I may be starting to tick some years off, but I’m not so old as to abhor change. I welcome it, quite frankly.
“But not change just for the sake of change. There should be a thoughtfulness to the process, as it affects not only the town, but the people, the community and the vibe of what is making this town so appealing.”
— Danny Sorensen, Downtown resident and business manager at Florida Victorian Architectural Antiques on West Georgia Avenue. Excerpts taken from a letter Sorensen sent to DeLand city commissioners before Monday’s meeting.
‘Too massive for our neighborhood’
“I have been a resident of DeLand for over 60 years and I have witnessed many changes in the landscape during that time.
“During the past decade, I have been proud to live in DeLand, as what we once referred to as ‘Dead Land’ developed into a quaint town with charm and history … enjoyed by both the residents and out of town visitors.
“Especially exciting was the improvement of the SoNY district, with the development of Artisan Alley (which hosts the popular Friday market), the recent beautification of Georgia Avenue, the addition of the Da Vinci Design Studios, Bake Chop, Neighbors Artisan Taqueria, The Table, and more.
“I strongly feel that proposed development by Deltran will change the small town of DeLand in an extremely negative way.
“How can two very large buildings, and a third planned in the future, be built without any new parking spaces included?
“Where are the employees of these buildings going to park? Where are the construction workers going to park during the development?
“Where are the visitors to the splash pad going to park? Where are the customers of the existing businesses in the neighborhood going to park? Where are the attendees of the Friday night market going to park?
“I feel this proposed plan, if approved, could not only harm all the businesses in the area, but it could be the end of the Friday night market as well, since not even the vendors would have a place to park.
“I have been looking forward to the redevelopment of the Old Jail property, but I cannot understand why Deltran’s proposal was considered.
“Office space for over 50 employees does not contribute to the allure of the neighborhood and increased traffic will destroy the existing charm.
“This plan is just too massive for our neighborhood.”
— Cindy Sperling, owner of NEST in Artisan Alley. Excerpts taken from a letter Sperling sent to DeLand city commissioners before Monday’s meeting.