Two big restoration and construction projects in and around Spring Hill face the need for major funding.
An attempt to rehabilitate the historic Wright Building is expected to cost almost $1 million; bids to construct the new Spring Hill resource center came in almost $500,000 more than was allocated for the project by the city and county.
Vacant for more than 10 years, the J.W. Wright Building at the intersection of Voorhis and Clara avenues was once the hub of a thriving African American business district in DeLand.
Years of hurricanes and violent storms caused damage to the nearly 100-year-old structure that was never repaired. In 2018, it was added to the Volusia County Most Endangered Historic Properties List.
Two years ago, Greater Union First Baptist Church, also located at the intersection, purchased the building and transferred its ownership to the church’s 501(c)(3) organization, Greater Union Life Center.
Now, in partnership with Stetson University, the University of Florida, Florida Architectural Antiques, the African American Museum of the Arts, and others, Greater Union Life Center plans to request an ECHO stabilization grant, fearing the building is at risk of “total collapse,” according to the grant application.
ECHO is a special county fund designated for environmental, cultural, historic and outdoors capital projects.
“Our mission is to save the Wright Building from total structural failure and eventually bring it back to its original purpose and symbolism, as a cultural and economic cornerstone for the community and as a physical manifestation of overcoming the odds in the face of adversity,” the grant application reads.
Once the building is stabilized and rehabilitated, plans include exhibits in partnership with the African American Museum of the Arts, a kitchen that can be used for demonstrations, a co-op offering locally grown produce, hydroponic gardens on the surrounding property, and, upstairs, a business incubator and event space.
If realized, the plans for the reconstructed Wright Building parallel its actual historical use: a business incubator, grocery store, and community gathering spot.
The application estimates the project will take two years.
Greater Union is pledging $477,949 to match the ECHO grant.
The grant application will be considered when the ECHO Advisory Committee meets at 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, in Stetson University’s Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Environmental Learning Center, 230 E. Michigan Ave.
Construction bids for the new Joyce M. Cusack Spring Hill Resource Center came back to the city in mid-March, and the outlook was not good — the lowest bid out of 10 is approximately half-a-million dollars higher than the projected cost estimate, and about $332,000 higher than the amount allocated for the project by the City of DeLand and Volusia County.
The highest bid, by CC Borden Construction in Jacksonville, is a whopping $798,379 over the funds available, which total about $680,000.
Attempts to bolster and improve the center, one of the most important assets in the community and currently operating out of a former temporary police station, have been beleaguered by funding crises.
Earlier this year, an unexpected tax exemption blasted a $97,000 hole in funding for projected operating costs for the new center. Now, the new building, which will still have a groundbreaking ceremony on April 26, needs hundreds of thousands of dollars more than what is available.
Although construction costs have gone up countrywide, officials pointed to the expansion of the project to explain the discrepancy between available funding and estimated cost.
“The project grew in scope after the community meetings,” Assistant City Manager Michael Grebosz said in an email to The Beacon.
The original estimate was in the $500,000 range for a building of 2,500 to 3,000 square feet. The final architectural plan calls for between 3,250 and 3,622 square feet.
Officials scrambled to find solutions to the funding crisis before a three-day event, to be held Thursday, April 25, Friday, April 26, and Sunday, April 28, that is being put on by the nonprofit Minority Elected Officials of Volusia County Inc. The group, founded by Joyce Cusack, a former representative in the Florida Legislature and a former member of the County Council, planned for its event, titled “Dreams Do Come True,” to include a gala, groundbreaking, and celebration for the new center, which was expected to open in the fall of 2019.
The original schedule predicted that a contractor would be selected by early April, with construction starting later this month.
The Spring Hill Community Redevelopment Agency is heading the project. That group is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at DeLand City Hall, while the groundbreaking is set for 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, at the site of the new center, across from the current center at 910 S. Adelle Ave.
At the CRA meeting, the community, board members and city staff will try to figure out what to do.
“A reduction in scope would be one of the options discussed,” Grebosz said.