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DeLand Beacon
"Maggi Hall Protects the Town She Loves"
November 2005  By Rick Tonyn

     When Maggi Smith Hall and her husband of two years, Ron, drove away from Stetson in the fall of 1967, they looked back at the manicured lawns and the Victorian-style buildings on campus. Suddenly, a wave of regret swept away the excitement they felt about starting a new life away from DeLand. "Don't worry." Hall told her husband. "We'll be back." It took 33 years to make good on that vow, but the Halls did come back. And, when they did, they came back with a boom. As in a boom in the real-estate market. Maggi Hall, 60, is in the vanguard of real-estate agents creating a renaissance for historic homes in West Volusia. I got into real estate because I like old houses," she said. "I love to restore them."
     Along the way she has helped restore pride to neighborhoods that were becoming dilapidated. She has also fattened local government's tax revenues by increasing the value of properties they tax. And she proves dealing in older properties also can provide a tidy income. For example, an apartment building near the corner of Voorhis and Alabama Avenues sold for $185,000 five years ago. Several weeks ago the building sold for $640,000, according to Hall.
     Much of her work has been in an area in the southeast corner of Downtown DeLand. Many homes in the neighborhood date back to the early 1900s. But their charm had been lost to neglect. When she first moved back to DeLand in 2000, part of that area was known as "Crack Alley" because of the selling of crack cocaine that went on there. Drug dealers and prostitutes worked the streets. But,Hall saw the beauty of the buildings in the area. An Orlando man who owned property in the neighborhood had Hall list some of his houses.
     Using the internet to get the listings posted worldwide, Hall inflated the prices way beyond the appraised value of the properties. The Web site attracted the attention of Michael Arth, then a California developer, who created what is now known as the Garden District - a chic, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood of renovated homes - out of what had been Crack Alley.
     An investor who buys an old building at an inflated value is going to be interested in restoring and maintaining the property to preserve an investment, according to Hall. On the other hand, someone who buys dilapidated property at a deflated price probably is interested in renting the property to whomever wants to pay for it, exploiting both the property and the tenants. Such an owner has no vested interest in improvements. "In order to preserve these beautiful, historical properties, we had to sell them at really high prices," Hall said.  The downside of that is the danger of pricing out lower-income tenants and homeowners. Those seeking lower-income housing have a variety of of local, state, and federal programs to help them, according to Hall.
     She got into dealing with historical property during several years in St. Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States, and a showplace for historical preservation. "St. Augustine is a national treasure," Hall said. "And DeLand is just a wonderful community that we should put in order to preserve it, too."
     She's trying to preserve DeLand by serving on the city's Code Enforcement Board. That is a group of City Commission-appointed residents who enforce such local laws as zoning regulations and landscaping requirements. Properly enforcing such codes can help keep neighborhoods from slipping into decay through neglect, Hall said. But she warns local code-enforcement officers spend too much time on such things as citing business people for having advertising displays on sidewalks and not enough time looking for absentee property owners who don't have lawns mowed or repair rotting fences. "Don't get me started on code enforcement," she said. "I've never seen such slack enforcement in my life."  Advocating for stricter code enforcement and aggressively marketing properties are the most recent manifestations of a lifelong tendency to keep pushing for whatever she wants, Hall said.
     Raised in Jacksonville, Hall was the first of two adopted children. She was adopted when she was 5 days old. Eventually, when she was in her 30s, she traced her birth mother, who had died several years earlier. Her birth mother had been in the Women's Army Corps during World War II when Maggi was born. Her birth mother's family shared with Hall memories of a free-spirited, independent young woman. Pictures exist of her birth mother on a motorcycle while pregnant. Some of her birth mother's independent streak, with a dose of willfulness, passed on to her daughter, according to Hall. For example, when she was 9 years old, Hall became fascinated with miniature golf. She decided to develop her own at home, taking up about one-fifth of her parents' 1.25 acre lawn with a 12-hole course. Rather then try to discourage her, her adoptive parents began collecting golf balls for her. "Mother always said, 'Just don't say no to Margaret," she said.
     Then, in 1963, Hall came to DeLand to attend Stetson University. Everything about the college and the surrounding community appealed to her. "I think DeLand does that to you," she said. "It's the town-and-gown relationship with Stetson." She met Ron Hall at Stetson. They married in 1965. After graduation, Ron went on to get a master's degree at Duke University and a doctorate at Chapel Hill, both in North Carolina. He became a philosophy professor at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C. He now is chairman of Stetson's philosophy department.
     Maggi Hall spent 30 years as a special-education teacher in Marion County, S.C. She got into a protracted dispute with the local school system administrators and school board, she said, by requesting records of administrative expenditures she suspected were wasteful. Eventually, after rounds of political and legal battles, she left South Carolina and went to St. Augustine, Hall said.
     Ron retired from Francis Marion in 2000 and got an unexpected job offer from Stetson, and the couple was finally able to return to DeLand. Their youngest daughter, Erin Holder, is a veterinarian here. Their oldest daughter, Amy Dendinger, is a nurse in Hill City, S.D. Both daughters are Stetson graduates.
     Besides selling real estate, Hall displayed her fascination for her alma mater and hometown by writing two books about Stetson University and Deland, in a series of Florida histories put out by Arcadia Publishing Co., Charleston. She donates the profits from sales to DeLand nonprofit organizations.
     "I love this town with a passion," she said. "It's a passion that began when I first came here in 1963."




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