Private investors change 'ghetto' area into a dream
By Bo Poertner - SENTINEL COLUMNIST, ORLANDO SENTINEL
MAR 14, 2002
E. Arth, Dreamer and Doer"
Hall turned off East Voorhis Avenue onto a side street and crept
past ramshackle homes with dirt yards.
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.
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.
the change is visible in the area that straddles East Voorhis.
of the pre-World War II wood houses, including some that the city
had earmarked for demolition, now are renovated, brightly painted,
and encircled by white picket fences. Gone are the unkempt yards
and trash piles that once littered the neighborhood. Gone are the
drug dealers and the prostitutes.
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 properties
to eight investors.
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 single-family and multi-family
homes in the neighborhood he calls the "Garden District."
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 quickly negotiated with
the city to halt the demolition of two houses, including the old
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.
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.
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."
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 Boulevard into
the Spring Hill area.
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 Votran buses, local taxis and even
a shuttle to the train station.
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."