| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Meet Duane Winjum, new GM at The Plaza Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach
Duane Winjum, new general manager at The Plaza Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach, talks about plans for the historic hotel.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
DAYTONA BEACH — With new owners and management at the helm of The Plaza Resort & Spa, there’s a fresh set of eyes focused on the future of one of the core roads of the World’s Most Famous Beach.
“Our ownership group feels there is tremendous potential for Seabreeze Boulevard to be reinvigorated as the entertainment center of Daytona Beach,” said Duane Winjum, the new general manager at the Plaza Resort, a landmark 323-room hotel at the intersection of Seabreeze and Atlantic Avenue.
“Where this hotel sits makes it ideal as the anchor for that revitalization,” said Winjum, a 38-year hospitality industry veteran who takes the helm in the wake of the hotel’s sale this past fall to Los Angeles-based investment group Vienna Capital.
That company paid at least $8.3 million to acquire the historic oceanfront hotel/condominium resort at 600 N. Atlantic Ave. in Daytona Beach, according to Volusia County property records. Vienna has retained the same hotel management company that had been running the property, North Carolina-based Boykin Management Co.
Previous coverage: California investors buy Daytona’s Plaza Resort
Boykin, in turn, hired Winjum, 62, who most recently had been working at Melia Hotels International in Celebration, west of Orlando.
In making his introduction to area tourism organizations — including the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County and the county-appointed Tourist Development Council — Winjum has consistently talked about his interest in the revitalization of the Seabreeze business district.
As evidence of that commitment, Jonathan Abraham Eid, CEO of Vienna Capital, took a walking tour in December to talk with Seabreeze business owners about ways to improve the boulevard. He was joined by Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and Bob Davis, the Lodging Association’s president and CEO.
“We met most of the business owners,” Henry said. “I got a sense that they greatly appreciated our visit and I know I appreciated the feedback and ideas that emanated from our discussions.”
Davis said he plans to be involved in arranging in a follow-up meeting with hotel representatives, Seabreeze merchants and city officials in coming weeks.
“There’s a lot more to come,” said Davis, who offered the hotel association’s support for ideas to uplift Seabreeze businesses. “All the hotels, all of us, we will be prepared to push it, to get on board.”
‘All in this together’
At a City Commission meeting following his visits with business owners, Henry asked city staff to research the cost of erecting an archway sign at the intersection of Seabreeze and Atlantic to label the boulevard as the “Seabreeze Entertainment District.”
It’s the first step in considering an idea offered by one of the business owners, Henry said.
“Before embracing that name change we need to have a discussion with residents and business in and around that area,” Henry said. “You have to make sure to partner with both. But I wouldn’t be opposed to changing the name and having an archway that highlights that.”
The discussion with merchants also yielded other ideas, Henry said.
“There are some things that can be done,” he said. “From the city’s perspective, we have to figure out a way to make certain that it (the street) is pressure cleaned and maintained. I also see a chance for a few of the businesses to do a few things to update themselves.”
Yet a closer look reveals that meaningful change might extend beyond cosmetic issues for a stretch of road still very much identified by a trio of strip clubs — Molly Brown’s, Grandview Live and Lollipops Gentlemen’s Club — that anchor its eastern end off Atlantic Avenue.
According to crime map statistics compiled by the Daytona Beach Police Department, there have been 222 reports of crime incidents within the past six months within a half mile of the intersection of Seabreeze and Grandview Avenue. he list of incidents include vandalism, narcotics, larceny, armed robbery and drunk drivers.
The numbers show that the area is still a hot-spot for late-night crime, an issue many residents of the Seabreeze neighborhood have been enduring for years.
For Lyle Trachtman, owner of Seabreeze Fine Jewelry, a visit by the mayor’s entourage was an encouraging sign.
“We’re all in this together, no question about it,” said Trachtman, head of a family-owned fixture on the boulevard since 1983. “It’s a nice change, seeing all those people together. That’s how things work, when people all get together and come up with solutions.”
Trachtman said that he sometimes feels that Seabreeze has become an after-thought compared with attention paid to other parts of the city, pointing to the $4 million streetscape project and other improvements on Beach Street and ongoing discussions about potential changes to uplift the beachside stretch of International Speedway Boulevard.
“I did tell him (the mayor) that we’re forgotten over here a lot,” Trachtman said. “We don’t seem to get any of the attention.”
A few blocks west of the jewelry shop, the interest in opinions of Seabreeze merchants was a “positive sign,” said Rick Kitt, owner of a row of businesses in the boulevard’s 300 block that include Daytona Tap Room, the Axe & Grog Pub and Evolved Vegan Kitchen.
“I’ve been here for eight years and the mayor has never met with me,” Kitt said. “I think he expected to talk for about two minutes and it ended up being almost an hour, but it was good.”
Kitt said that he offered the suggestion to install an archway promoting Seabreeze as an entertainment district. He also suggested the placement of smaller directional signs pointing to individual businesses.
“The mayor seemed to like a lot of the ideas,” Kitt said.
‘Only the beginning’
The prospect of improving Seabreeze Boulevard also received the support of Daytona Beach City Commissioner Quanita May, whose district extends into the neighborhoods just south of the business district.
“It would be interesting if the city would be able to create some sort of mechanism to help the businesses in that area to work on the look of the area,” May said. “We can do what we can do about the environment, but I wish there was a little more we could do to give it an identifiable look. I always saw Seabreeze as an entertainment district that was very walkable.”
City Commissioner Aaron Delgado, whose district includes Seabreeze Boulevard and whose law office sits on it, couldn’t be reached for comment by phone or text message.
Back at the hotel, Winjum expressed optimism about the potential for Volusia County’s beachside, despite the obvious downturn in the tourism industry due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Daytona Beach has the opportunity to go much further than it realizes today,” he said. “There’s some momentum that’s beginning to build and we feel that momentum will continue as we come out of this pandemic.”
‘A bit of a Renaissance’
A Central Florida native, Winjum was born in Altamonte Springs and graduated from Lyman High School in Longwood. His childhood memories include visits to Daytona Beach in the shadow of the hotel where he now works.
“I remember coming over with my parents; it was a regular ritual,” he said, seated at a high-top table in the hotel lobby. “Even if you haven’t been to Daytona for 50 years, you probably remember The Plaza.”
Winjum is a homegrown “Central Florida hospitality success story” who has worked the bulk of his career at hotels in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, said Richard Maladecki, president and CEO of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association.
“I’ve known him for more than 20 years and I’ve seen him in many roles, as a very effective general manager respected by his coworkers and team members,” Maladecki said. “I would also say that Duane is extremely involved in the community representing the hotel as a brand for the ownership group. He will help be a Renaissance tool for that property.”
The hotel’s historic significance is reflected in the fact that it’s Daytona Beach’s oldest continuously operating hotel, dating back to 1911. The hotel’s signature clock tower is one of the first things motorists see when they drive over the Seabreeze Bridge heading towards the ocean.
Looking back further, the property’s roots extend to 1895 when Daytona Beach businessman Charles Ballough built an oceanfront casino resort on the site called Hotel Clarendon. The hotel burned down in 1909 and was rebuilt two years later.
The section of beach behind The Plaza Resort is where legendary race car driver Sir Malcolm Campbell set a new world land speed record in 1928.
Looking out the picture windows toward the beach amid the dark wood accents of the hotel lobby on a recent afternoon, Winjum said that preserving that history will be an essential part of plans now being formulated to “reimagine” the hotel by adding 21st Century touches in technology and amenities.
“We’ll be looking at the infrastructure, as well as the branding of the property,” Winjum said. “Elements of the hotel will become more contemporary, with a nod toward its history.”
Before such plans are created, the new owners will be exploring whether the hotel might want to align itself with a nationally or internationally known hotel flag, Winjum said.
“Until that decision is made, those other decisions can’t be made,” he said. Likewise, details on the hotel’s renovation budget and timetable are still being determined, he said.
Vienna Capital’s purchase didn’t include the entire building, but rather a “controlling stake” that included ownership of the hotel lobby, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, the 14-story hotel’s two restaurants, a deli and lobby bar, and 100 guest rooms, according to the marketing flier circulated earlier this year by HERC Investment Advisors. The sale included The Plaza Resort’s iconic clock tower.
In the meantime, Winjum anticipates more communication between the hotel owners and the Seabreeze business owners.
“This is only the beginning of the conversation to revitalize that area,” he said. “From every person I talk to, there’s a lot of interest in this area. I think it will go through a bit of a Renaissance.”