DeLand city officials have decided to support an effort to breathe new life into a once-thriving commercial building that once anchored DeLand’s African American business district.
Members of the Downtown DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency, which is made up of DeLand’s five city commissioners and two Downtown business owners, voted unanimously at their Nov. 18 meeting to award $20,000 in underutilized grant funds to the Wright Building restoration project.
The Downtown CRA is a tax-increment financing district, meaning it generates money from taxes on the increase in value of the properties within the district over the years, compared to a base year — 1984, in the case of the Downtown district.
The J.W. Wright Building, on the corner of West Voorhis and South Clara avenues in DeLand, just barely sits in the boundaries of the CRA, which more-or-less straddles Woodland Boulevard between Voorhis and Ohio avenues, extending east and west a block or two.
But efforts to save the 1920 building have ramped up in recent years, following Greater Union First Baptist Church’s acquisition of the property in a 2016 tax-deed sale.
The church transferred the property to its charitable arm, the Greater Union Life Center.
The group hopes to make the lower floors of the building into a home for its community-outreach efforts, as well as a nexus for services from other groups, such as Stetson University and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Volusia County Extension.
The building's upper level would be set aside as an incubator for local businesses, hosting job development and business training programs.
The grant monies will be used to rehabilitate the building's attic and roof-support structures, remove an existing damaged roof, and install a new membrane roof, scuppers and downspouts. In total, the roofing work is estimated to cost about $50,000.
Mark Shuttleworth, owner of Florida Victorian Architectural Antiques, serves as project manager for the rehabilitation effort. He said work has been going on “on an active basis” for about seven months.
“The project’s doing well,” Shuttleworth said. “We needed a lot of work just to clean out the building. Since then, we’ve been working on the emergency stabilization part of it.”
The building still has a temporary roof, just to prevent further damage from the elements.
“The next thing we want to do, frankly, is get that membrane roof on it, a really good quality roof,” Shuttleworth added. “After that, we’ll start to go to the exterior brick shell, and windows and doors, and then finish out the building.”
The Life Center has already spent upward of $150,000 of its own funds on the restoration project, Shuttleworth said. The group is also looking for financing from local banks, using church properties as collateral.
Additional financing could come from a Volusia County ECHO grant, which the Life Center plans to apply for next month. The effort also received a $100,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in July.
Shuttleworth said it’s hard to predict, given the building’s age and challenges in finding financing, how long the restoration will take, but he estimated the Wright Building could be “in service” within a year-and-a-half.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the building, both downstairs and upstairs,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of community support for a local-culture-and-history kind of area there. There’s also a lot of interest in a health outreach kind of center there, and also a lot of interest in community gardens and hydroponics.”
City Commissioner Kevin Reid asked if there would be duplication of services between those slated to be at the Wright Building, and those that would be based out of DeLand’s new Spring Hill Resource Center, which is currently under construction about a mile to the south.
Shuttleworth said he wasn’t familiar with what exactly was planned for the new Resource Center, but Commissioner Jessica Davis, who sits on the Spring Hill Community Redevelopment Agency board, said conversations have been had to prevent duplication.
“These are just ideas of things that are coming to them from the community,” she said. “So I don’t feel that there would be duplicate services … it will not duplicate or oversaturate that need.”
In the end, all seven members of the board voted for the grant, along with a waiver of the construction timing requirements that usually go along with such grants.
Construction typically can’t begin on a grant-funded project until the grant is approved, but since the Wright Building required emergency stabilization work, city staff recommended the waiver be approved.