rock of ages athens theatre deland
ART — Actors in Rock of Ages, the recent musical comedy at the Athens Theatre in DeLand, share a moment of despair over the possible loss of their rock ‘n’ roll club to the whims of an out-of-town developer. Author Wendy Anderson finds parallels in DeLand’s votes on development. PHOTO COURTESY THE ATHENS THEATRE

Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? DeLand’s charm and character are grounded in the arts, culture, education, and DeLand’s beautiful environment.

Two of our historic, center city icons, the Athens Theatre and the original Southridge Golf Course, intersected last week. The Athens showed the hilarious, popular musical Rock of Ages. I hope you saw it, because in it, art imitates real life. In the musical, the mayor is paid off by out-of-town developers who aim to tear down an old rock ’n’ roll club called The Bourbon Room, and replace it with a clean, cookie-cutter commercial strip. But the people of West Hollywood Built This City on Rock ’n’ Roll, and they’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore.


Beresford Reserve, the redevelopment plan for Southridge Golf Course (formerly nicknamed “The Rock”), was approved in a second reading by the DeLand City Commission last Monday night.

Through what dragged out over a 20-month process, it has appeared that science could not prevail over the powers of development. The preliminary scientific data, whether they were collected objectively or not, were largely disregarded despite a battery of professional scientists highlighting the red flags that even the early data showed.

And I fear that the additional scientific results from the subsequent testing, described in a plan with some substantive inadequacies, will probably also not prevail.

The second reading was not supposed to occur until a comprehensive site-assessment work plan (aka “a testing plan”) was approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In my scientific opinion, the testing plan is not adequate, and the plan is yet to be approved by the FDEP. Nonetheless, the City Commission prematurely heard the case and gave the project a green light.

The opportunity to upgrade our own city’s “Rock” into a destination for art, culture, recreation, and protected environment appears to be lost forever to an out-of-town developer who will replace yet another green space with more cookie-cutter houses.

And not just any green space, a green space soaked in 60 years of golf-course pesticides sitting atop an old city dump filled with unknown materials from the 1940s and ’50s.

But what scientists know the world over is that scientific “facts” rarely convince anybody to do anything. Only art can do that. Only art can bring people together and capture imaginations and soul and passion. Only art can change the world. Perhaps the city commissioners didn’t attend the musical at the Athens. If they had, they would have seen themselves in the mirror on stage and understood at their core what was required of them.

We built this city on art, culture, education, and a beautiful environment. And we’re not gonna take this rampant overdevelopment anymore. Imagine a city that embraces these roots, and claims the right and responsibility to envision a better DeLand. Imagine a mayor and commission who are committed to engaging the diverse populations of our community to co-create a vibrant city that embraces its past, even as it plans for a rich and innovative future.

Let’s Rock all the Ages, old and young, past and future.

— Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.


  1. DeLand has all the ingredients to continue to stand apart and above the all too many similar cities. Deep culture and diverse citizens all living in and enjoying a downtown with history and substance.
    We truly don’t need more homes to support the next run of Chinese takeout, laundromat, vape, and discount clothing shops.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here