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Developer sees eye-pleasing cluster of condos, sho

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Proposal shuns mall mold

Developer sees eye-pleasing cluster of condos, shops in DeLand

By Jeff Libby | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted April 6, 2005

DELAND -- Banking on a "languid Southern sensuality" rather than the common allure of the American suburban mall, developer Michael Arth announced plans Tuesday to build a multimillion-dollar residential and commercial project centered on a sunken tropical garden in the city's downtown.

The six-story, Spanish Colonial Revival-style project, proposed on four acres on East Voorhis Avenue at the corner of South Alabama Avenue, would include 43 condominiums and 27 shops and restaurants on the north side of Voorhis. Thirteen bungalow-style homes built around a fountain and central pedestrian walkway are planned on the south side of Voorhis.

The shops and condos would flank a colonnade overlooking a man-made swimming pool with coquina cliffs, a waterfall and palm trees.

Arth, 51, who built a leafy Garden District of bungalows out of a drug-plagued neighborhood in DeLand, has at least one investor for the pedestrian-centered project he is calling DeLand Springs, but needs more backing, he said. The plans for the mostly undeveloped land are in the conceptual stages and could require special approvals to be built. Arth hopes to break ground next spring, he said. A taxi stand on the site would have to be demolished.

"I want to create a see-and-be-seen atmosphere in DeLand," Arth said. "It will also be a lot of offbeat, unusual shops. Not like the malls where you have the same experience all over the country."

City officials, who received copies of Arth's proposal Tuesday, showed support for the project in general terms, saying that it supported the city's hope to build more residential units in the downtown.

"It would be a tremendous boost to the downtown," said Mike Abels, DeLand city manager. "It would be incredible what it would do."

Taver Cornett, executive director of the MainStreet DeLand downtown business association, said the proposal to add 27 small shops and restaurants would add about 20 percent to the downtown's 120 to 130 storefronts. With the growth of business along Woodland Boulevard, downtown storefronts are rarely vacant, Cornett said.

"We're starting to see a creep south toward the Garden District," Cornett said. "If the shops came on gradually, I think the downtown could handle it quite well."

Arth's project is built around a development philosophy of what Arth calls a new pedestrianism, which takes the new urbanism of such places as Celebration and Baldwin Park a step further, he said, widening central walkways for pedestrians and doing more to hide cars from view.

The underground parking for cars at the condos and shops would also help shelter the planned sunken garden, creating a microclimate similar to Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables, Arth said. And, he added, it won't hurt that shoppers walking the garden paths could listen to trickling water, rather than traffic.

Jeff Libby can be reached at [email protected] or 386-253-2316.

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