BY DON KANFER
Along with Mark Shuttleworth and Barb Shepherd and a host of other DeLand-area residents, I, also, have been following the demise of the Hotel Putnam in our papers and online. And like them, I, too, am in favor of repair instead of demolition.
Anything can be repaired if there are sufficient will and funds. Which leads us to the sad reality that the highest and best use for the Putnam property is likely parking.
Restoration and retrofitting will obviously be more costly than building new from the start. Nice condos or offices and retail/restaurants, even another hotel, would be nice but not likely to happen.
Similar plans have already been proposed for the old jail across the street and, there too, parking, or rather the lack thereof, is an issue.
We already have a plethora of new apartments proposed for Downtown — the old Save-a-Lot, the old Barnett Bank and possibly other sites — all of which will of necessity need to be high-end rentals or condominiums to make any economic sense for the developer.
To turn the white-elephant damaged shell of the old hotel into something profitable will require an enormous amount of political will, public outcry and money. The Dutton House across the road has been languishing under similar circumstances for years, despite being a much smaller, simpler and less-expensive undertaking.
While the owners and contractors working on the building bear the immediate responsibility for the current wall damage, the city is not entirely without blame. They have made life less than easy for the previous owners, who were trying to renovate the building, albeit on a shoestring budget.
Let us not forget that all of our historic homes, buildings and monuments that were built 100 or more years ago, which are still standing and that we enjoy the use of even today, were built without codes and inspections. Sometimes it’s best just to step back and allow the craftsmen who know their trades to do what they know how to do. Waiving unnecessary regulations that only add time and expense to a project is sometimes the expedient way to go, if the end result is what we desire.
I, as much as anyone else, would love to see the old Putnam Hotel restored to some semblance of its former beauty and function. What man made once, man can make again. Damaged walls can be repaired; structural framework can be reinforced and the results aesthetically incorporated and covered up in the new construction.
Can the private owners be forced to do this against their desires and budget? That remains to be determined. Is public ownership an option? That, too, can be debated. It would be nice if the city can compromise with the owners while options are discussed, perhaps by offering tax and utility moratoriums and construction-permit extensions while discussions are underway.
There are lots of options still open if the owners and city wish to pursue them. Demolition, while a tempting quick solution, is a permanent and irreversible one. One that should not be taken without due consideration and evaluation.
— Kanfer, of DeLand, is a veterinarian. He has served as a supervisor with the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District, and ran twice unsuccessfully for a seat on the Volusia County Council.