voorhis ave scene deland
BEACON PHOTO/JEFF SHEPHERD STREET SCENE — This view of the block of West Voorhis Avenue between Florida and Clara avenues shows the historic Wright Building at left on the corner. Next to it is the Washington Theater, DeLand’s movie theater for Black residents during the days of segregation. The theater is now owned by a church. Also at the intersection is 140-year-old Greater Union First Baptist Church, the Dr. Noble “Thin Man” Watts Amphitheater and the African American Museum of the Arts.

DeLand-based design firm CPH will draw up new plans incorporating public feedback on the project to fix up part of West Voorhis Avenue near Downtown DeLand.

The Downtown DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency approved an expenditure of $15,615 for new designs after the first plans left members of the community wanting more. Those designs, shown off at a public meeting in March, only included plans to improve one block of West Voorhis Avenue, from Clara Avenue to Florida Avenue.

The new design will plan for fixing up an additional block of West Voorhis, from Clara Avenue to Woodland Boulevard. Another incorporation, per public feedback, will be the removal of on-street parking.

Assistant City Manager Mike Grebosz told city commissioners the community also expressed interest in features that honor the road’s history as being a part of DeLand’s Black community.

“When we go to the second community meeting and show the community that [the decision to extend the project to two blocks], then we can adjust feedback based upon that,” he said. “We will have more feedback from the community before it comes to the board to incorporate that African American history and culture into the project.”

Costs are still a concern, though. The streetscape project came about last year when DeLand residents were asked to vote on projects they were interested in seeing CRA funds put toward. The Voorhis Avenue streetscape project was one of the most popular initiatives, but it’s also not cheap.

Estimates, according to Grebosz, put the original project — only the one block of West Voorhis Avenue — at around $750,000 in construction costs. There is no estimate for the project with two blocks of Voorhis, but it will cost more, Grebosz said.

The one-block plan initially shown off was within the CRA’s budget, Mayor Bob Apgar — a member of the seven-member CRA board, which includes the entire DeLand City Commission and two representatives from the city’s business community — said, but to ensure the city gets it done right, he suggested the possibility of the CRA borrowing money.

Construction costs may keep rising, Apgar noted.

“The City Commission may need to look at doing some borrowings to cover some of these additional costs and let them be, in this case, repaid over time by the CRA for the additional work rather than expend current funds,” he said.

The next step for the Voorhis project is for CPH’s plans to come back before the community at a public meeting. No information is available about meeting dates yet, but The Beacon will report these dates when more information is available.


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