In 2012, I relocated from Atlanta Georgia to Daytona Beach Florida. When I was in school and for many years following my graduation Daytona was the place to go for spring break. Being raised in Florida I came to know Daytona as the world's most famous beach. But, that was back in the 80's when MTV and VH1 were still in their infancies. Every year VH1 would hold spring breakfest here in Daytona and hordes of students from all over the country would descend upon the state and bolster the tourist income for the whole area. But, when I came back to Florida I found out that VH1 and MTV had pulled out of the area and were now filming their seasonal volleyball games, wet t-shirt contests, bikini contests and spring breakfest in other cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Pensacola pulling the tourist income to different portions of the state.
Now, don't get me wrong we still get a some spring breakers here to celebrate the Easter and spring season, but it is nothing like what it used to be in the 80's through 2000. It is sad to say that Daytona's economy is now firmly based off of speedweeks and bikefest and the annual turkey run. For those of you not familiar or into NASCAR racing you wouldn't know what speedweeks are all about or what they mean to the economy of Daytona. What I can tell you is that right around the 4th of July NASCAR kicks off speedweeks with the Coke 400 and carries us into the racing season. One really big crowd drawer is the Daytona 500 that takes place shortly after the Coke 400. For several weeks our town is filled with race car fans and they spend their money on dining out and shopping, sometimes even lounging on our beaches. But, before any of that takes place are the bike weeks there are actually two bike weeks per year for Daytona, the first occurs in March and is the precursor to the NASCAR speedweeks. Which heralds in the summer months and the hope that the local beaches will be enough to draw the tourists into town.
Unfortunately, that has become a pipedream for many of us that live here. There is no real draw here anymore, there is very little nightlife or big draw festivals. So what happened and why is Volusia county becoming the home for one of the largest homeless populations in the state? Why are there more drugs sold on Ridgewood Avenue than all the income from tourist attractions combined? These are very good questions and beg to be answered by the public officials voted into office.
You can find anything you desire on Ridgewood from Granada to Dunlawton avenue and very little police presence. Oh the occasional officer will make an appearance usually around North avenue at the J Store and will harass the homeless and try and root out the dealers walking the streets. Yet prostitution and drug use abounds in the hotels that line US1. The coalition for the homeless and haven recovery center try to put a stopper on the overflow of homeless but what is actually happening is a hangout for the dealers and users alike. At any hour during the day or night you can see scores of homeless walking the streets and bouncing from corner to corner.
Other agencies like Halifax Urban Ministries and other outreach organizations try to help the homeless and feed scores of people weekly. They also track the homeless population for the US Census. But where are the shelters and other organizations that help these individuals get off the street and reintegrate back into society? Why are the cut offs for assistance so low for Volusia County. Why is there no housing programs or other urban activities to help these individuals get off the street? The Salvation Army has a shelter but it only houses 10 men and 10 women at a time. Yet, there are over 6,500 homeless individuals in this town. Agencies like Volusia County Department of Health set up mobile HIV testing at the coalition for the homeless, but there is nothing else really being done.
Finding work in Daytona is also a major problem. Most companies are looking for individuals that are drug free and have appropriate attire to interview with, yet with an ever increasing homeless population nothing is being done to help these individuals. Seasonal jobs have become the norm for those individuals, and with only 6 weeks out of the year when races or other functions happening in the area those without a place to call home have very little hope of finding a lucrative job to help them get off the street and become meaningful members of society.
In less than 20 years we have seen a complete and total transformation of Daytona. Elected officials would rather focus on road improvements and other infrastructure initiatives that they can obtain federal funding for instead of pouring money back into capturing the tourist dollars. Hotels and motels that once were beautiful and fully occupied now are only full during race weeks and bike weeks. Each one of them have started offering weekly and monthly rates to attract guests for their establishments. Popular attractions like the Ocean Deck no longer have the crowds that they used to have. MTV and VH1 have moved to another location and we have lost the draw that they used to bring to the area.
In recent years they started having movies under the stars and the summer concert series to help residents to come back into town and spend money at local businesses. But what we need is an influx of tourist dollars. Daytona residents and council members need to realize that the once might Worlds Famous Beach is no longer enough to draw the crowds like it once did. We have to compete with the theme parks of Disney and Universal over in Orlando which is about 45 miles away. Maybe we need to reach out to the theme parks and see if we couldn't offer some kind of summer package deal that would include 3 days in the park and 2 days at the beach and see if we cannot draw people back to our beautiful beaches.
Maybe we should reach out and see if we cannot not only draw racing fans, and golf fans to our area but the beach going tourists. We should collectively look at what Ft. Lauderdale and the cities of south Florida are doing to see if we cannot emulate them and bring back the crowds we once had. Too many people are thinking and finding that Daytona is stagnate and unchanging. If something isn't done soon this town will be forgotten and beach goers will head to Cocoa Beach, Titusville or Ft Lauderdale and spend their tourist dollars there. Cocoa has the Kennedy space center and was the backdrop for the well known I Dream of Jeanie TV series so has a well known name.
I hope that the city manager and council members soon realize that they are driving our town into the ground and contributing to the poverty levels of the area. Cleaning up of US 1 and trying to attract lucrative and well received business into the area is a must. Removal of some of these seedy motels and put in well known national chain hotels would be a good start. Plus trying to draw maybe a broadway series to the Peabody auditorium as well as business conferences to the ocean center, maybe try and host a comic-con or other big draw festivities into our existing venues.
I don't know if what I have written here will be well received or not, but as one of them members of the community that is affected by what the local economy does or doesn't do. Is hoping that bigger and better attractions and festivities might just turn this town around otherwise I too will be just another member of this community that leaves the area for good, because I just can't survive here the way things are going now.
As always my hopes and dreams are with you,