Eatonville struggles but tries to capitalize on its heritage.
By Ken Ibold
At first glance, the half-mile stretch of Kennedy Boulevard that serves as Eatonville's downtown might seem like yet another hardscrabble neighborhood among Florida's urban landscapes. Boarded up homes and shops tell of troubled times.
But Eatonville is different. Its modest town hall is, if not modern, clean and tidy. Of the three most prominent buildings, two are churches. The third is a museum to honor Zora Neale Hurston, the folklorist, anthropologist and Harlem Renaissance writer of the early 1900s whose home was in Eatonville.
The oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the country, Eatonville, only about 1 square mile in size, is boxed in by ritzy Winter Park, booming Maitland and I-4.
But metro Orlando's boom has largely bypassed Eatonville and its 2,100 residents. With virtually no industry or new investment, the town has one of the highest tax rates in Florida, three times that of other small central Florida towns such as Windermere and Belle Isle.
The town's finances have generated controversy and disarray among its leaders, with City Council members and Mayor Anthony Grant advancing widely different views on the town's fiscal management.
Vice Mayor Michael Johnson charges that Grant is uncooperative in supplying information on town finances. Grant, who calls Johnson power-hungry, says the town is holding its own. "We're not destitute, folks," the mayor said when a budget flap heated up in August. "Never in the history of this town have we had $1 million sitting in the bank."
Amid the bickering, council members at one point refused to countersign checks signed by Grant until they got a more complete accounting of the town's finances, leaving some creditors hanging.
As the politicians sniped, Eatonville's 52 city employees nearly saw their paychecks bounce. In just the past two years, the town has gone through four finance directors, three police chiefs, two public works directors and two chief administrators. Building official Jim Jackson, who works as an independent contractor, says he's been fired or quit 27 times in less than three years, only to be rehired when tempers cooled.
Despite the political infighting, Eatonville seems determined to preserve its heritage. The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, founded in 1987, has led the way in trying to keep Eatonville from being swallowed by suburbia. The community battled the widening of Kennedy Boulevard and has erected 10 historical markers honoring Hurston.
In the News
Daytona Beach -- As a result of cutbacks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Continental Airlines has discontinued service to Daytona Beach International Airport.
Deland -- MT-Propeller of Germany plans to open an airplane propeller plant at DeLand Municipal Airport. The company, which will initially employ about 10, designs and makes composite propellers for light aircraft, especially high-performance stunt planes.
Leesburg -- TeleZap Wireless has deployed a high-speed wireless internet network that will offer wireless internet access at about four times the speed of DSL. The system is designed to offer broadband internet access and e-mail to moving vehicles.
New Smyrna Beach -- 707 Developers of Jacksonville Beach is planning a high-end beach condo with some units costing as much as $700,000. Nine of the 19 planned units have already been reserved.
Orange County -- An extension of Kirkman Road to the Bee Line Expressway, which would run through 1,800 acres owned by Universal Orlando, may hold the key to future expansion by Universal. Florida's Turnpike is investigating building a $90-million, two-mile road through the property. A decision has not been made on whether the road would carry a toll.
Stonewood Grill is opening its ninth restaurant, this one in south Orange County at the Dr. Phillips and Conroy-Windermere Road intersection. The 2-year-old steak-and-seafood chain recently has opened two restaurants in North Carolina and one in Gainesville.
The Orange County School District has approved a $950-million budget for 2001-02.
Orlando -- Orlando is the No. 1 large city for entrepreneurs, tying Dallas for the top spot, according to Entrepreneur magazine's and Dun & Bradstreet's eighth annual listing of Best Cities for Entrepreneurs.The magazine cited Orlando as a high-tech hub with a "reasonable" cost of living and "attractive" climate.
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede is headed to Orlando after all. The $24-million project will land on Vineland Avenue. The project nearly died last year when county officials nixed a Turkey Lake Road/Sand Lake Road location. The 1,200-seat dinner theater is scheduled to open in late 2002.
The Orlando Magic shelved a $75-million plan to renovate the TD Waterhouse Centre, citing economic uncertainty. The proposed renovation would have added luxury suites and food courts and improved lower level seats. It also would have led to a drop in seating capacity, from 17,200 to about 16,000. The team came under fire earlier this year when it wanted the public to help pay for a new $250-million arena.
Connextions.net has boosted its space at the Center of Commerce in west Orlando from 112,000 square feet to 170,000 square feet. The company acts as a web host and a website fulfillment house.
Infinite Group has located its Infinite Photonics subsidiary at the Central Florida Research Park near UCF. The company uses lasers and other photonic technology for material processing and advanced manufacturing methods.
Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. has leased 141,120 square feet at the former General Electric distribution center at Airport International Park, doubling its storage space and allowing room for expansion. The company is consolidating two west Orlando locations into the new facility, where it will distribute furniture statewide.
Epoch Properties Inc. has bought enough land to build an additional 432 apartments next to its popular Park Avenue at MetroWest complex. The development includes 16,000 square feet of shops and offices that front a two-acre park and will now have 1,175 apartments, making it the largest apartment complex in MetroWest.
Hard Rock Cafe International, buoyed by solid profits in the first half of the year, is forging ahead with an aggressive growth plan that includes restaurants, hotels and casinos in several parts of the world.
Downtown Development Board Executive Director Tom Kohler is stepping down after more than 20 years at the helm to join Real Estate Research Consultants, an Orlando advisory firm, as senior vice president.
Winter Park -- Forbes ranked the master's in business administration program at Rollins College's Crummer Graduate School of Business No. 24 among regional schools nationally. The magazine compared the cost of a degree to the financial benefit of having one.
CorbinMotors: Credit Check
DAYTONA BEACH -- CorbinMotors, which plans to develop and manufacture an electric mini-car in Daytona ["Landing the Sparrow," August 2001], needs to obtain a letter of credit as a final condition for getting $8 million in tax-exempt bonds, a Volusia County board has decided. The company's plan to build a 300-worker assembly plant on an 18-acre site led the Volusia County Industrial Development Authority to question whether Corbin has enough money for the project.
Banking: SunTrust Gets Bigger
ORLANDO -- SunTrust Banks is buying Huntington Bancshares' 105 Florida branches for $705 million, making Atlanta-based SunTrust the third-biggest in the state behind Bank of America and Wachovia. Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington, which entered the Florida market in 1998 and based its statewide operations in Orlando, had $4.7 billion in deposits and a $2.6-billion loan portfolio. Huntington plans to keep its trust and private banking offices in Naples and Stuart, its indirect auto financing business and its J. Rolfe Davis Insurance subsidiary.