wright building
BEACON PHOTO/NOAH HERTZ
The Wright Building is shown at 258 W. Voorhis Ave., with the African American Museum of the Arts behind it, fronting on South Clara Avenue, and the Dr. Noble “Thin Man” Watts Amphitheater across the street.

The Downtown DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency and the City Commission OK’d a plan for redeveloping a chunk of a historically Black part of DeLand. The approval comes two years after members of the public selected the redevelopment of two blocks of West Voorhis Avenue as a priority for the city.

While the concept for improvements has been approved, actual work is a ways out. First, a few more tweaks need to be made to the design — like eliminating a mid-block crossing. Then, city officials anticipate it will take at least a year to identify funding sources for the approximately $3 million streetscape project that will improve West Voorhis Avenue from Woodland Boulevard to Clara Avenue.

That price is subject to change, but the estimate includes the cost of narrowing the road to reduce traffic speeds, enlarging sidewalks, improving lighting and installing a decorative intersection at Clara Avenue. 

For members of the DeLand community who have seen Voorhis Avenue long-excluded from CRA and city funding, the project represents an exciting path forward.

Former Florida Rep. Joyce Cusack spent much of her time growing up at “Wright’s Corner” on Voorhis Avenue, named for Black businessman James W. Wright. She wants to see the project happen, but she wants the city to invest the resources to do it right.

“I know about walking that area all my life and walking that area to Downtown DeLand, which was not always so inclusive of folk that looked like me. Let’s get it right,” Cusack said. “…  Everything is growing. So let’s not miss out on the growth of the DeLand Wright’s Corner as we know it.”

A number of other members of the public spoke in support of the project, too, but one concern was that the recognition of the area’s Black history that was once a focal point was now gone. To remedy that, DeLand pastor Reggie Williams suggested historic markers to pay homage to those who made Voorhis Avenue a hub for business in the 20th century.

“It doesn’t take much,” Williams said, “but it gives recognition to a very vibrant Black business community that did once exist here.”

IMAGE COURTESY CITY OF DELAND
THE CURRENT PLAN — Pictured is the latest design plan for the West Voorhis Avenue streetscape. Some of the elements will be changed before it is finalized, like a change to a mid-block crossing, but the proposed concept, like the equal-sized sidewalks on each side of the road, was accepted and approved by the DeLand City Commission and Downtown DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency June 8.

The City Commission and the CRA were in favor of the project, but the question remains: How to pay for it? 

While the CRA has budgeted some $700,000 for the project, it’s a far cry from the approximately $3 million it will take to fund it completely. While the streetscape was originally estimated to cost around $600,000, the price tag ballooned as the plans grew to include a second block (from Florida to Clara avenues) and the cost of construction materials continued to rise. The streetscape once included plans for a roundabout, but it was axed to save money.

With an approved design for the project, the next step is for the city’s staff to begin identifying potential funding sources and applying for grants.

While the project will take time, the city wants to make sure it does things right.

“I absolutely want to see this done,” Mayor Chris Cloudman said, “but I also want to be responsible in funding it.”

And even if it does take time, residents, like DeLandite Audrey Fletcher-Lee, want to see a project they can be proud of.

Doing this right, she said, will result in an expansion of Downtown DeLand that will benefit locals for years to come.

“You don’t want to change the community, you want to enhance it,” Fletcher-Lee said. “Those historic areas we’re talking about tonight are very, very important.”

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