Delray Beach's approach: Small changes add up


There is no need to reinvent the wheel when taking on the task of improving Daytona Beach’s beachside. Florida offers examples of cities that have re-polished themselves into coastal gems. A city with warm sun and a beach has a sandy gift that can keep on giving. Delray Beach is the example The News-Journal looked at today. It’s an important case study that Daytona Beach officials should take note of. Delray Beach had problems in the 1980s similar to those Daytona Beach has struggled with for 30 years: The downtown was depressed. Planners told The News-Journal Delray Beach was perceived as a “3-D” city: Dark, dirty and dangerous. Drugs circulated downtown and there was the occasional gunshot. But Delray Beach came to grips with these problems, problems that had to be eliminated to make way for true revitalization. The problems — and potential solutions — are familiar to Daytona Beach. Delray Beach was not a big tourist draw when city leaders started their efforts. While the city has developed a healthy tourism business, it still can’t be compared to Daytona Beach on that front. Daytona Beach is a tourism mecca. Yet the city 3 1/2 hours to the south can still provide valuable lessons. Delray Beach, faced with big problems downtown, decided to restore the area over time. City officials did the little things and focused on change they knew they could deliver, such as improving retail choices downtown and attracting pedestrians to the retail district. In short, Delray Beach didn’t try to go for a home run every time at bat — the strategy Volusia County leaders often have followed in trying to improve the beachside core in Daytona Beach. Delray Beach did use some tools now in use in Daytona Beach, such as code enforcement and street-level policing. The Daytona Beach Proud initiative has been under way for several years. The promising “small ball” initiative has the goal of harnessing civic pride to improve the city’s appearance and attitude. Police and code enforcement officers conducted sweeps in 2011 in an area bordered by International Speedway Boulevard, Main Street, State Road A1A and Halifax Avenue. The police also have increased foot patrols in the targeted zone. A visible police presence is critical in restoring a sense of safety and order to neighborhoods suffering from blight and petty crime. But that’s just one step. Daytona Beach’s beachside also needs a shot in the arm that only new private development can bring. In Delray Beach, the city’s redevelopment agency bought vacant lots to assemble for developers. The city offered incentives, small business loans and grants to reshape historic buildings for new uses. Delray Beach, it should be noted, used a calendar of special events to spur interest in downtown. With its races, motorcycle events, summer fun and convention center (Delray Beach doesn’t have one of those, it should be noted), Daytona Beach has plenty of big events. But the city could expand its roster of events to create citywide and year-round interest in the beachside. Daytona Beach — with its robust tradition of middle-class tourism — is not a trendy enclave, and likely never will be. But the beachside can be improved and it can provide offerings that will appeal to both tourists and locals and sustain foot traffic in the core area. Past improvements, the “big” projects, from Ocean Walk Shoppes to the Ocean Center renovations, have laid the groundwork. But now the beachside needs more help from locals — residents and entrepreneurs. Daytona Beach needs to look for opportunities in the old beachside neighborhoods and in the business district along A1A: opportunities for new town homes, new apartments, new lofts, new condos, new shops, new eateries — all within walking distance of the famous beach. The main lesson Daytona Beach can learn from Delray Beach is to be patient and not overshoot, and to give its full attention to the small tasks associated with rebuilding the beachside.