By Paul Burdziakowski
For Hometown News
In the last several years, the Port Orange City Center has become a huge attraction, hosting dozens of historical and educational events every year.
Last weekend was a good example as the city celebrated the 16th annual Lakeside Jazz Festival and ninth annual Art Festival as part this year's continuing Centennial Celebration. The city's Centennial Celebration was a month earlier on March 17.
The City Center today consists of 105 acres of sprawling land with several prominent buildings, but that was not how it started. Its humble beginning was as a 25-acre plot of land sitting next to a borrow pit.
"I've lived in the area for 37 years and I can remember riding my motor bike up and down the dirt roads when there was nothing else here but the borrow pit," Port Orange resident Tom Forgie said.
Port Orange's original City Hall was at the northwest corner of Dunlawton Avenue and U.S. 1. At that time, that section of the city was considered downtown. The locals gave City Hall the name Buzzard's Roost because it was a central gathering point for people to sit around and talk about the news of the day.
In 1947, a four room, concrete block building replaced the Buzzard's Roost and became Port Orange's new City Hall. The new City Hall was moved from the old downtown area westward into farmlands and heavily wooded areas in 1985. This move would set the tone for the future of Port Orange.
Early on many people questioned the sensibility of the new City Hall location, but any lingering doubts were soon put to rest as a tremendous amount of growth began to spring forth west of U.S. 1 in the 1980s and 1990s.
The mayor at the time, Jim Fisher, sparked a majority of the growth. Under his leadership, Port Orange underwent a total transformation. It went from being a small town with a small economy to the modern and contemporary city it is today.
Mayor Fisher first initiated the Tree City USA program in Port Orange. His commitment to caring for and managing the city's public trees went a long way in helping develop City Center from a barren landscape into a beautiful location highlighted with a variety of trees, which provide a unique canopy design.
After City Hall was moved and rededicated at 1000 City Center Circle in 1985, several more buildings were created around it in the coming years. The Recreation Center had already been at City Center since 1978 and underwent some renovations three years ago. The borrow pit that City Hall sat next to was converted into a beautiful lake in 1985. In 1986 and 1987, several soccer and baseball fields were created to help accommodate the Recreation Center. A police station was created in 1986, a fire station in 1988 and the YMCA followed in 1989. The library was originally located on the second floor of City Hall before moving to a new building in 1996. The Amphitheatre was built in 1998 with a Lakeside Community Center adjoining with it in 2005. The city also purchased Silver Sands Bridle Club and a portion of it became Palmer College of Chiropractic from 2002 to 2003. All these buildings have played a great part in helping the city host events and provide a variety of programs throughout the year.
The Lakeside Jazz Festival has become one of the most popular events at City Center. According to Kent Donahue, special assistant to the city manager, the event has come to be known as one of the premier jazz festivals of middle school and high school jazz bands in the southeastern United States. Other notable events in the coming months are the Founders Day ceremony on Friday, April 26, Cracker Days on May 25 and the Spruce Creek Festival on June 22.
"I have enjoyed coming out and seeing the Art Festival especially when it was a lot smaller and just had a few booths set up around the lake," 22-year Port Orange resident Ginger Groh said. "The Art Festival has really grown since that time and drawn a lot of people."
"I'm a big fan of the Port Orange Family Days event because it has carnival rides that my little girls enjoy," Ponce Inlet resident Stephanie Harris said. "The city does a good job of attracting young families to the area with the wide variety of events."
Residents and visitors alike are enjoying the numerous events the city provides as shown by the growth in numbers and interest each year. The City of Port Orange City Center has certainly come a long way and should continue to have plenty to celebrate when it comes to community and history in the years to come.