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The transformation of Deland: Part Two

Could its team-effort approach be a blueprint for Apopka?


Having already shared with you my history of engagement with small towns and downtowns, last Friday, I was honored to partner with Caitlyn Kasheta, Executive Director of Apopka’s new Main Street program, to facilitate a group of county, Lockhartians, and Apopkans meeting some of the “magnificent seven” responsible for Deland’s rebirth. I am grateful to those individuals attending representing the city, county, chamber, museum, and business community.

Deland Mayor Chris Cloudman set up the luncheon for us. Incidentally, Cloudman plays euphonium in the Deland Orchestra while I play flute in the Harmony Symphonic Winds, our Apopka community band led by Frank Taylor. 

Orange County Commissioner District 2 Christine Moore
Orange County Commissioner District 2 Christine Moore

As I planned the morning tour, I noticed the Boston Coffee Shop on New York Avenue was the busiest place in town. Activity is always a sign of success. The shop had great coffee, colonial décor, and a meeting area, so we began our tour here.

We started by sharing our stories and love affairs with small towns, particularly Deland. You have heard my story already, but Caitlyn and her husband, Nick, got married at a small barn near Deland and partied at boulevard hot spots. 

Additionally, we broke up into three teams to better discuss the tactics Deland employed. We discussed who could be responsible for similar improvements. We learned Deland was intentional about collaboration. The Main Street Director reminded me he existed to make EVERYONE look good.

The Athens Theatre in Deland.
The Athens Theatre in Deland.

Rebuilding Deland was truly a team sport. 

We had a notetaker to record the improvements employed in this nationally awarded Main Street Program. We observed upgraded sidewalks, traffic calming, awnings, artwork, sculptures, water features, outdoor eating areas, wayfinding signage, potted plants, and a diverse stock of restaurants, boutiques, and shops. 

We visited several small parks, and the boulevard was replete with benches and garbage cans. You may ask why you noticed the garbage cans. I organize District 2 residents into corridor care teams, and our biggest chore is picking up trash. I saw no trash in Deland.

Teams weren’t allowed to dwell on the negatives. The Main Street Program has figured out best practices, and none of its affiliated chapters has failed. We should be glass-half-full cheerleaders.

We were blessed to receive a special tour of the Athens Theater. The story of this 1920s structure included tales of good and bad days. I am now motivated to attend a film or show in Deland. The director also mentioned how the theater collaborates with the timing of shows to assist businesses in avoiding surges of customers. The city received over $12 million in state and federal grants to renovate the historic theater. Not one dime of local taxpayer dollars was utilized.

At the luncheon, Mayor Chris Cloudman introduced his team of collaborators – a former mayor, several business owners, a city assistant manager, and the Main Street Director. Our group asked them many probing questions. My biggest takeaway is we must be a team. For example, the city’s CRA repaired and upgraded the sidewalks and wayfinding signage. The city’s garden club maintains the fresh flowers in irrigated pots at street corners. The chamber of commerce works with the local merchants to become profitable. The city supports all efforts, as does the FDOT when streets must be shut down for festivals. 

Nevertheless, I hope you ask one of the two dozen attendees what their takeaway was. I’m sure you will get numerous perspectives. Stay tuned for future columns and next steps. We are still processing information from the tour. Rest assured, we will be back with ideas, projects, festivals, and action.

To read part one, go here.

Deland, Main Street, Orange County Commissioner Christine Moore, What can Apopka learn from the transformation of Deland?


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  • wheresthepopcorn

    After a lot of research Downtown Apopka will never be Downtown DeLand for many reasons:

    1. There is no university that will generate foot traffic.

    2. Downtown DeLand is a 2 Lane road

    3. These businesses are home grown and been there for decades. No home grown investment

    4. No social media accounts bashing the Mayor run by conspiracy theorists.

    5. The city council doesn’t appear to dislike the mayor.

    6. DeLand has more parades than any other town.

    7. DeLand has a dog parade

    8. I can go on but I will stop here

    Wednesday, May 8 Report this

  • wheresthepopcorn

    Don’t forget the Athens….is there a thatrw in apopka? I live here and I don’t know

    Wednesday, May 8 Report this