THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE IT HAPPEN — African American Museum of the Arts Director Mary Allen, right, smiles with the museum’s Stetson University intern Kamari Ouck in November 2022. Allen has been involved with the museum since the 1990s, and she took over as its director in 2008. The African American Museum of the Arts first opened its doors in 1994 under the leadership of the Rev. Maxwell Johnson and his wife, Irene Johnson.

It may be remembered as ECHO Day.

The Volusia County Council March 7 awarded ECHO grants worth more than $1 million to DeLand’s African American Museum of the Arts and the Daytona Playhouse.

“It’s very gratifying that the County Council and the ECHO board were there,” Reggie Williams, the chair of the board of the African American Museum of the Arts Inc., told The Beacon.

Under the allocation just approved, the African American Museum will receive $498,060 in ECHO funding, to complement the local match of $532,540. The bulk of the latter sum is a cultural grant of $474,040 from the Florida Department of State.

The Daytona Playhouse will receive $600,000 in ECHO funding, which is matched with $600,600 the sponsoring organization provides. In both instances, the grants and their matching funds will be used to enlarge the facilities.

For the African American Museum, its space at 325 S. Clara Ave. will increase from the current 800 square feet to 2,000 square feet. The larger quarters will provide more room for exhibits and educational outreach.

Williams said the African American Museum can now move forward with the expansion of its facilities.

“We have an architect in place,” he noted. “The design work is probably going to take us 90 to 120 days. We could have everything in place and construction taking about nine to 12 months.”

Thus, the new and enlarged museum may be ready to welcome visitors in 2024.

The approval of the grants came amid renewed concerns about how the projects are rated when their nonprofit backers apply for ECHO dollars, and whether they can generate sufficient support to keep them going in the future.

“What is the local support that makes the project sustainable?” Council Member David Santiago asked.

Put another way, are the projects such that they will develop and maintain the loyalty of patrons and donors, as well as volunteers?

“Sustainability is what keeps the lights on,” Council Member Matt Reinhart said.

As for the African American Museum, Williams acknowledged ongoing grassroots support is vital.

“The funding from the state and the county are for construction only, and we will be asking the community to assist with landscaping and furnishing the building,” he said.

Going forward, Resource Stewardship Director Brad Burbaugh told the County Council those applying for ECHO grants must prove they are able to move forward with their projects.

“We now require shovel-ready construction documents,” he said. “Your staff is looking at that.”

In separate but related action, the council granted time extensions for projects that remain unfinished, due to circumstances beyond the control of their supporters. The Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach was given ECHO funding of $273,102 in 2019 for its Phase 3 expansion, and the City of Port Orange secured a $400,000 ECHO grant in 2020 for Phase 2 of its REC Center. Shortages and increasing prices of key construction materials are causing the delays, according to county officials.

“We are close to completion, but the recent two storms [hurricanes] have delayed work,” wrote Marine Discovery Center Executive Director Chad Truxall in a letter dated Nov. 18, 2022.

The MDC expansion was supposed to have been finished no later than Jan. 21, 2022. The work is now 60 percent complete, a county memorandum noted. At the suggestion of the county administration, the County Council extended the completion date for the MDC’s project completion to Jan. 21, 2024.

Similarly, Port Orange was given until March 3, 2024, to finish the expansion of the REC Center. The facility is now 98 percent finished, according to officials. The new deadline for completion is March 3, 2024. The council also approved extra ECHO funding of $78,010 to meet the rising costs of construction.

“Supply issues can’t be the reason we deny something,” Reinhart said.

In yet another ECHO matter, the County Council approved a five-year plan for ECHO outlays.

The plan calls for spending almost $15.4 million over the next five years for 43 specific projects at 32 identified sites around the county. Of the 43 projects, 30 of them will be outdoor-recreational. That is 70 percent of the total. Eleven others, or about 25 percent, will be environmental projects, and the remaining two projects will be historical. The historical ones, by the way, are at DeBary Hall.

The five-year plan with its $15 million-plus outlays does not mean the county will cease taking applications for ECHO grants. Volusia ECHO’s ad valorem tax yields approximately $9 million annually, meaning the program may raise some $45 million during the next half-decade, leaving substantial funding for other projects yet to come.


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