by Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- The slow and steady process of negotiations on the long-awaited Riverwalk project may soon result in some development.
Taking one of the first steps that would bring Riverwalk development plans to reality, the City Council approved concepts for a 38-slip marina; a marina activity building, including a 30-seat café; a permanently docked riverboat restaurant; and a 109-space parking lot located within 35 acres along the Halifax River.
Parker Mynchenberg, a project engineer representing developer Buddy LaCour, said the proposed development would meet the project's goal of reopening the area to the public and generate activity in the area before the city begins developing a riverfront park there.
"We've got to get a toe in the water," Mr. Mynchenberg said. "This is the first step down there."
To get the public park off the ground, Mr. LaCour and the City Council are negotiating a land swap. Mr. LaCour offered to exchange five of the six riverfront parcels he and his partners own for 10 city-owned parcels; council members want the riverfront parcels for the park, while Mr. LaCour wants the city's land for future commercial development.
While a majority of council members felt the project would be a positive "starting point" for the Riverwalk area, some citizens disagreed with the project's inclusion of a riverboat restaurant.
Bob Scalise, a concerned citizen, said a riverboat restaurant at Riverwalk would be a bad idea, given the uncertainty over whether Mr. LaCour would pay any taxes to the city for operating a restaurant on the boat.
"He's putting a boat in so he doesn't have to pay for a restaurant," Mr. Scalise said. "Why would you give serious consideration to this unless there was some fee being paid every year in addition to some taxes? Where is this helping us?"
City Attorney Margaret Roberts said the Volusia County Property Appraiser told her there "may or may not" be personal property taxes that could be collected from the proposed riverboat restaurant.
Vice Mayor Bob Pohlmann said he didn't understand the citizens' opposition to a riverboat restaurant at Riverwalk, given many New Smyrna Beach residents supported a proposal to permanently dock the Delta Queen, a riverboat hotel, in their city.
"Down in New Smyrna Beach, when that boat was going to be towed in there, everybody thought that was the second coming, what a wonderful, wonderful thing it would be for the riverfront to have a boat down there, yet we have the opposite mentality up here," Mr. Pohlmann said. "I support (the riverboat restaurant). I think it's something that would be a good starting point."
But Councilman Bob Ford, the lone opponent of the Riverwalk project, considered Mr. LaCour's proposal "a step backwards." He opposes the riverboat restaurant and the development of temporary parking spaces on a crucial part of the riverfront land known as the point.
"If we're going to call that a park and put parking and private development in the middle of it and deny our residents increased vista views and all the rest, I don't think we're doing the right thing," Mr. Ford said. "I think we're panicking ... We are increasingly abandoning our plan and turning it into a mishmash."