County Council Approves Echo Grants

The Volusia County Council approved two grants totaling nearly $1.1 million to fund projects at the Daytona Playhouse and the African American Museum of the Arts.

The ECHO program provides funds for building, purchasing, improving or restoring projects for a variety of purposes, including environmental, cultural, historical and recreational uses, according to information on the county’s website.

Among the goals of the program is to fund projects that promote heritage and cultural tourism opportunities and sites in the county. In 2020, county voters approved a measure to continue the program for an additional 20 years.

Brad Burbaugh, the ECHO program’s director of revenue stewardship, presented the grant requests to the County Council with a brief overview.

“ECHO is a match program,” he said, with the idea that organizations seeking funds “have to have some skin in the game.”

Burbaugh said African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand requested $498,000 for a project to increase the facility’s capacity by 1,200 square feet to host additional events and programming. The organization is providing $532,000 in matching funds.

“This will help them increase their capacity to deliver services to the community,” he said.

The Daytona Playhouse, first organized in 1946 in Daytona Beach, applied for a $600,000 grant to build a workshop, costume prep and rehearsal space.

County Council members had several questions about the grant proposals as well as the grant process, with a focus on ensuring the sustainability of organizations receiving funds.

“How do we make sure these are sustainable?” asked Council member David Santiago. “What is the local support to make sure it is sustainable so we’re not just throwing money away that may not have a public benefit?”

Reggie Williams, African American Museum of the Arts board chair, said he knows sustainability is an important issue.

“We recognize maintenance is going to be an issue once the building is constructed,” he said. “We’re taking steps to ensure this project, when it comes on-line, can be sustained.”

County Council Chair Jeff Brower acknowledged the grants come from taxpayer money, but reiterated the purpose behind the ECHO program.

“The purpose of ECHO is to increase culture, the environment and history to Volusia residents and our visitors here,” he said. “ECHO was brought to us for a reason, for all the reasons ECHO exists and I think we should do everything we can to bring those programs to the public regardless of the revenue they bring in.”