BY FRANK SCHNIDMAN
As so clearly explained in the Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2023, issue of The Beacon, the Hotel Putnam situation is a tragedy allowed to happen by repeated waves of elected and appointed public officials.
Every time you hear how committed these officials are to preserving DeLand’s historic heritage, ask them a simple question: If you are so committed to historic preservation, why is it that, according to the Historic Preservation Board, the DeLand city budget allocates only $20,000 to historic-preservation staffing and related activities?
At meeting after meeting, the public, volunteers and even elected officials decry the lack of adequate research, presentations or detailed reporting of recommendations. How can this change? How can serious attention be given to addressing the challenges of restoring the Hotel Putnam? How can serious attention be given to other projects and proposals in the pipeline?
The Historic Preservation Board and city staff are currently studying the real historic-preservation budgetary needs — and it is crucial that substantial and committed public participation in this year’s budget-preparation process be undertaken — with the goal of identifying tasks that must be funded.
It is also a question of priorities. If $2 million is being discussed for a roundabout and related streetscape enhancements at the intersection of West Voorhis and South Florida avenues, surely additional funds can be found to support historic preservation.
And, while the focus is on the Hotel Putnam and the options available, we must not lose sight of the next big preservation challenge. After so many years and so many developer-friendly modifications to what was promised to the citizens of DeLand, is it not time to pull the plug on the demolition of the Downtown Old Jail and hire professionals to evaluate adaptive reuse or other options for this structure that is so much a part of the fabric of Downtown and its history?
Go to the site yourself at 130 W. New York Ave. Walk New York and Georgia avenues between Woodland Boulevard and Florida Avenue. Walk the alleys. Look around and consider the impact of what is being proposed. Is this proposed redevelopment compatible with the historic character of Downtown? What are your thoughts? Share them with the city.
It is time for the city to commit adequate resources for historic preservation — adequate resources to be proactive, to determine what to preserve and how to do it, instead of reacting to crisis after crisis, development proposal after development proposal.
Yes, DeLand has a 2050 Vision Plan for the future, and the city is starting on a revision of this plan. But general statements will not be enough. Specific plans must be in place, and there must be the courage to implement those plans, backed by an enhanced budgetary commitment to preserving the historic fabric of DeLand.
That can be the future of historic preservation in DeLand.
— Schnidman, of DeLand, is an attorney and a former professor of urban and regional planning.