Michael Arth had a vision, the vision is now becoming reality, and lots of people are noticing.
Among the many awards and accolades Arth's neighborhood revitalization project has received is the City of DeLand Beautification Award of the Quarter for the Southeast Quadrant.
Every three months, DeLand city officials choose a quadrant of the city from which to pick candidates for the beautification award. Three candidates were chosen from the southwest sector, and Arth's Garden District won.
E. Voorhis Ave. before renovation
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E. Voorhis Ave. after renovation
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Arth bought and is renovating more than 20 small, wood-frame homes in the once-downtrodden neighborhood bisected by Voorhis and Alabama avenues near Downtown DeLand.
Arth decided to come to DeLand to create a living laboratory based on his book Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to Twelve Herculean Problems. He's working on a documentary that will chronicle changes in the neighborhood.
Arth's project incorporates both residential and commercial elements, which fits with his goal of creating a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. He recently opened a gallery and museum in the building at 205 E. Voorhis Ave., in the heart of the Garden District.
"The museum," Arth said, "has been planned since the beginning of the project."
The Art of the Garden Gallery and the Garden District Museum had its grand opening Nov. 21. One room displays works of art by Arth himself, while another room is for photos and other documentation of the area's history.
The gallery building was the home of Bearden's Grocery Store from the early 1900s until that business moved in 1933.
Artifacts found during the renovation, including old bottles, an old iron, and pieces from a 1939 tea set, will also be displayed at the museum.
The manager of the gallery is Romona Whaley, who lives on-site. She moved to the Garden District from Ormond By The Sea because of the neighborhood's proximity to downtown, and its pedestrian-friendly features.
Stetson University, a few blocks north of the Garden District, was also a factor.
"I wanted to come to an academic community," Whaley said.
Whaley has worked for The Apopka Chief for 20 years. She and Arth are launching a small newspaper, The Garden District Gazette, and planned to make the first edition available at the museum opening.
The Gazette will cover news in the district, happenings in Downtown DeLand and updates on the Athens Theatre. The first edition included a piece on the Alabama Avenue Greenway, another project Arth hopes the city will become involved in to boost the neighborhood's revitalization.