Due to lack of cooperation from city officials and the police much of the "Garden District" has slipped back into a serious need for clean up, increased security, and multiple code violations.
A Downtown Residential Revitalization Project
MAJOR DEVELOPMENT COMING TO GARDEN DISTRICT
Featured in Southern Living April 2004
In March 2000 Maggi Hall, an award-winning preservationist and Realtor, drove down Alabama Avenue amid trash-laden sidewalks, discarded grocery carts, rundown houses, and a hang-out for drugs and prostitutes. Even the police had given up trying to control one of the oldest neighborhoods in DeLand. Yet beyond the trash and overgrown yards, beyond the unsavory characters loitering on corners, Hall saw an architecturally rich collection of houses waiting to be transformed into a family-friendly extension of the recently revitalized downtown DeLand. A few flyers and weeks later Hall had begun "The Voorhis Street Project" and the rest, well, is history.
After posting the flyer on an international website, Hall received a response from a man in California who had been looking for a similar project for over a year. Six months later Michael Arth moved into one of eighteen buildings he purchased, no money down. Hall continued contacting property owners to sell their run down houses and also purchased five buildings for her real estate office, West Volusia Properties, and her daughter's veterinary hospital, FloridaWild.
Once the massive cleanup and restoration began the City of DeLand joined in to assist. It donated mature cabbage palms to line Voorhis Street. The police began patrolling the streets of the neighborhood on a regular basis. People started believing as investors began buying into Hall's dream. Hall and Arth changed "The Voorhis Street Project" to "The Garden District" as house after house began wearing a new coat of paint. To date, Arth has renoved 27 buildings in the Garden District, including garages, sheds, and a playhouse. These structures comprise 30 homes and businesses.Arth also is looking for investors to partner with him in buildling 93 homes and businesses. Hall's 5 buildings are complete with 2 additional single-family homes also restored for her daughters and their families.
Alabama Avenue, the street where Hall had her vision, runs from Stetson University at the north end of downtown, past the new multi-million dollar Volusia County Courthouse, through the city's multi-million dollar sports complex, to end at Earl Brown Park. Alabama Avenue is set to be transformed into a pedestrian friendly greenway lined with a parade of trees in a green median. Alabama connects "The Garden District" with downtown DeLand--the heart of the community.
Over the past thirty years in America small towns have tended to stretch outward leaving downtown to die from the sprawl. However with the support of DeLand's MainStreet Association DeLand's downtown has been completely revitalized. Outdoor cafes, antique shops, art galleries, re-bricked streets, and architecturally restored buildings lining DeLand's main street add up to a town that, above all else, values community.
Four years of labor and love have passed and the Garden District's first four businesses are open, Art of the Garden art gallery, The Garden Cottage Tea Room on Voorhis, West Volusia Properties, Hall's real estate office on the corner of the Boulevard and Euclid, and FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital on Euclid. Other properties bought for commercial use include a coffeehouse and law firm on Alabama and two bookstores on Howry.
While a majority of the properties in The Garden District have been bought by investors and families, a few remain. If you or someone you know are looking to invest in a revitalized downtown such as DeLand, a community rich in heritage, The Garden District is the place for you.
By Michael Justin Holder
PRIVATE INVESTORS CHANGE 'GHETTO' AREA INTO A DREAM
By BO POERTNER
ORLANDO SENTINEL MARCH 14, 2002
Maggi Hall turned off East Voorhis Avenue onto a side street and crept past ramshackle homes with dirt yards. The neighborhood southeast of downtown DeLand looked like a graveyard for long-dead dreams. But Hall, a real estate agent who says making money is secondary to preserving old homes and restoring a once-vibrant neighborhood, has big dreams for these streets--the kind of dreams that make the best communities.
"The dream is to restore this to the way, or close to the way, it looked in the '30s and '40s, with tree-lined streets," said Hall, a Stetson University graduate who returned to DeLand in 1999. Already, the change is visible in the area that straddles East Voorhis. Many of the pre-World War II wood houses, including some that the city had earmarked for demolition, now are renovated and brightly painted, and encircled by white picket fences. Gone are the unkept yards and trash piles that once littered the neighborhood. Gone are the drug dealers and the prostitutes.
After learning about the city's plans to convert Alabama Avenue into a pedestrian greenway from Stetson University south to Earl Brown Park, Hall launched a private urban renewal project. She quickly found owners willing to sell properties along East Voorhis and other streets, such as Osceola and Hayden Avenues and Brinkley Drive. She listed the properties and advertised for investors on an Internet Web site. Since June 2000, she has listed and sold about 50 [at present over 60] properties to eight [at present 2 dozen] investors.
Hall found gold when Michael Arth, a dreamer and doer from Santa Barbara, California, answered her Internet ad. Since moving to DeLand last August, Arth has bought more than 20 [sic, 19] single-family and multi-family homes in the neighborhood he calls the "Garden District." Like Hall, he has big dreams, including converting an old mom-and-pop grocery into an old art gallery to exhibit his own work. Arth moved into a former "crack house" and [he and Hall] quickly negotiated with the city to halt the demolition of two houses, including the old grocery.
"They gave me six months to save them or buy them. On the very day, six months later, I bought them," said Arth, who expects to spend $1.1 million to buy and restore his buildings. He figures he has completed 80 percent of the project and is looking for more financing to finish it. Hall and Arth have made a believer out of City Manager Mike Abels, who doubted the wisdom of trying to restore houses that seemed suited only for demolition.
"I thought there was no way to save some of those houses. I was absolutely dead wrong," Abels said. "It's one of the most absolute, perfect examples of private individuals using private money to further a public purpose."
Hall already has extended the project south to Euclid Avenue, where she bought a cluster of houses that she will convert into a real estate office and veterinary complex for her daughter. Also, she expects to expand her real estate listings west of Woodland Blvd. into the Spring Hill area.
The private redevelopment meshes well with the city's long range plans. The city, for example, owns property near Euclid and Woodland and is awaiting state and federal money to build a transportation complex there that could accommodate [Greyhound and] Votran buses, local taxi, and even a shuttle to the train station.
Hall said the neighborhood will remain culturally and ethnically diverse. "It's not a matter of displacing people. It's a matter of cleaning up what has become a ghetto," she said. "It's an extension of what the city has done in the way of restoration."
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