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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019 3 days ago

Downtown master plan update prioritizes bridge, parks and sense of community

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Ormond Beach elected officials, guided by the ideas from the downtown steering committee, will create the future vision for the district.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

What should the city's downtown district look like in the next 10 years?

That's a question city officials mulled over during the downtown master plan update workshop on Wednesday, Aug. 7, where the commission discussed the ideas and findings of its Downtown Steering Committee. The committee was made up of residents, business and organization leaders, as well as city board members, whose end goal was to help the commission craft the next master plan that will serve to provide a framework for the future of the district. The last downtown master plan was created in 2006. 

The Granada bridge, its four corner parks and cementing the city's sense of place were three themes the commission centered around at the workshop. Beautification and increasing walkability were also discussed. 

Pete Sechler, of GAI Consultants Inc., had a lot of ideas for how the city could accomplish all of this. From wider sidewalks to relocating city hall — an idea the commission did not support — to improving the bridge with color and clearly marked bike lanes, Sechler divided the master plan into several categories like environmental sustainability, arts and culture and residential neighborhoods. The city has "beautiful properties," Sechler said, but that they're not being used to their maximum potential.

“There’s still plenty left on the table for you to capitalize on there,” Sechler said.

Symbol of unity

In the master plan update, the bridge was listed as its own subdistrict. Sechler said this was because people aare now thinking it as more of an icon in the city. In 2006, he said he would have characterized the bridge as a divider, but the conversation this time around has geared around the concept of making the bridge a town centerpiece.

“Suddenly the bridge can become the symbol of where everything comes together," Sechler said.

Possible improvements to the bridge could include painting it. Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington said he was in favor of it, having murals and adding specialty LED lighting. City Manager Joyce Shanahan said the Florida Department of Transportation recently providing funding for colored LED lights at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay, and that the city will be "hot on [FDOT's] trail" to get some funding of its own for this purpose.

City Commissioner Rob Littleton said the city's downtown centers around the bridge.

“It’s iconic, people come to it, it’s lovely," Littleton said. "Everyone loves the Granada bridge.”

Because of its high level of utilization — many residents walk the bridge throughout the day for recreation and exercise — City Commissioner Susan Persis would like to see improvements made to it. She's also an advocate for improving the bridge's four corner parks. 

Some ways Sechler suggested doing that were adding more swings and shaded picnic spots.  

Updating is something that always needs to happen, Persis said. The commission will looking at ways to "jazz up" what's already in the downtown, she added.

“You have to think out of the box, and you have to see what other successful cities have done to make their cities look good, and I think that’s what everybody really wants to do — they just want to enhance the beauty that’s already here,” Persis said.

More parking

Partington said the commission should consider building a two-story parking garage in the existing grassy lot by The Casements on the beachside. That would make event parking safer, he said, as well as double the capacity of people who can attend the event.

Building the garage would be expensive,  Partington said, "but it would be a good use of dollars to open up those areas, create more use than they’re getting now.”

Persis wouldn't like to see a tall garage, but was open to the idea. She said a restaurant or bar could always open at the top level of a multiple-story garage, and that could provide views of the ocean and the Halifax River.  

City Commissioner Troy Kent wasn't on board with the idea, expressing he'd rather see the city buy other nearby properties to build parking lots, perhaps for employees. 

“I have yet to see a beautiful parking garage," Kent said. "The ones I see smell like urine, and bad seedy things happen at night.”

Food on the river

Persis said she'd love to have a waterfront restaurant in the city where residents and visitors could eat a fish sandwich or grilled shrimp. 

City Commissioner Dwight Selby said people like to have drinks in businesses with water views, and it's hard to find a place like that in Ormond Beach. He suggested finding a way to facilitate this. 

Sechler said few cities actually have a standalone waterfront restaurant, illustrating his point by saying St. Petersburg only has two. However, Sechler said that the cities that do figure out how to entice local restaurants to open places on the water really enrich the community. 

Partington said there might be an opportunity for an establishment like that to come into the city in the land adjacent to Cassen Park. 

Persis said Ormond Beach could be a "premiere" city, with a couple changes.

“The possibilities are really endless with what we could do," Persis said. "Nothing has been done in so, so long, the committee is just going to have to decide what to do.” 

Correction: A previous version of this story reported that Partington wished to charge for parking at possible downtown garage. This was incorrect; the mayor said he used the word "charge" at the commission meeting to mean double the amount of people attending events. 

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