By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND -- Thunderous street-corner preaching is familiar ground to any who've walked by the corner of Woodland Boulevard and New York Avenue on Friday afternoons.
Newer is the same flamboyant fulfillment of the First Amendment in the wee hours in Pioneer Park at Woodland and Rich Avenue.
Local business owner Scott Price said he's losing tenants from his 146 N. Woodland Blvd. apartment building because of street preachers vociferously proclaiming their message at midnight.
"They don't bring it down," he told the city commission at a February meeting. "They belt it out in the middle of the night."
Mr. Price gave commissioners a letter from one of his tenants, Missy Nicole Mruczek, complaining, "The religious fanatics across the street yell and shout until at least 1 a.m. every weekend."
She also complained about noise from Bill & Frank's Brickhouse Grill, 142 N. Woodland. Attempts to reach the tenant for additional comment were unsuccessful.
In an interview, Mr. Price said he's lost a few tenants from his four-apartment building in the last year or so. He said the street preachers seem to be targeting college-age patrons at the Brickhouse Grill on Thursday and Friday nights. The restaurant has some outdoor tables. Those patrons, he said, sometimes shout back and loud disputes often follow.
"I'd say there's been three tenants that have had problems with (noise)," Mr. Price said.
Members of The Bible Baptist Church, and perhaps others, have done the high-decibel downtown evangelism since 1985. It's frequently led to disputes with merchants, who say it runs off customers. The church's pastor, Rev. James Knox, didn't respond to requests for an interview. However, in a previous interview, he expressed skepticism that downtown business is adversely affected by the operatic street preaching.
"Some of those businesses have been there as long as we have," Rev. Knox said. "If we're putting people out of business why are they still there?"
DeLand resident Heather Pace said her sister and she were harassed by the Pioneer Park evangelists one evening around 11 p.m. She said they ignored repeated requests for solitude.
"It's not only Stetson students they are harassing, but common citizens," Ms. Pace said. "It's sad that I have to deal with that just to sit and catch up with my sister after our kids are in bed."
Darren Elkind, city attorney, said he's had discussions with the church's leadership, which attributed some of the reported problems to "younger church members." He said Rev. Knox assured him the Bible Baptist Church discourages any form of harassing people, but insists on its right to evangelize loudly.
At a February meeting, City Commissioner Phil Martin said more needs to be done to regulate volumes in downtown. Mr. Martin also owns Mainstreet Grill at 100 E. New York Ave.
"I wish I had an answer," he said. "I've been there since 2005 and I can't fix it either." The Brickhouse Grill didn't respond to requests for an interview.