DPAC is happening! No, it's not!: A war of words between the county and the city, again


Down the wormhole we go! OK, when we last checked in with the questionable fate of the former Pin-Drop Palace™, everything seemed to be coming up roses. A brand new nonprofit had appeared out of thin air – or the bought-and-sold concerns of the region that actually deal in magic, the Orlando Magic and Disney – calling itself the Orlando Community Construction Corporation. The OCCC-see-what-we-can-do-to-save-DPAC consortium held their inaugural meeting just last month in a spirited race to meet a looming May deadline that could set the project back $110 million on already received construction bids. Everybody in the meeting room seemed reasonably content (if oblivious) that they could somehow make everything come together with a new owner's representative company to see the ailing project through. On Monday it was announced that the group had swiftly acquired its new suitor, PCL Construction, after what must have been a harrowing game of boardroom hangman. It was a go! This is really happening!

Except it's not. On Friday, April 8, the fine folks still making up the now-neutered DPAC board held their regular meeting – trading stock tips and yawns, probably – at which there were some stunning revelations, at least according to an email chain obtained by the Weekly. Assistant county administrator Eric Gassman was there, albeit a little late, and sent this dispatch to Jim Moye in the county comptroller's office:

Jim: Pursuant to your request, here is my understanding of the decisions/discussions at DPAC Board meeting today.  Also, since I arrived late to the meeting, I may have missed some pertinent information.  Please advice if I missed anything or if you have a different understanding. -          The $30 million shortfall they had requested of the County has been reduced to $16 million through value engineering deferments, fund raising and other efforts.  Further, DPAC doesn’t need any additional funding from the County.  They are planning on raising the remaining $16 million through philanthropy and/or private bridge loans.  They are confident they can do this before the money is needed towards the end of the project.  In addition, they feel the City of Orlando and Mayor Dyer will approve the construction contract and the GMP based on this plan.  They are shooting for the May 9th City Council meeting for GMP approval.  Since the $30 million gap has been closed, no action is required by the County. -          The City would like to be reimbursed for their $31 bridge loan from future contract TDT revenue and this may require an amendment to the Interlocal Agreement.  Mayor Jacobs indicated that she is supportive of this concept provided her questions regarding operational costs as outlined in her March 24th letter are adequately answered.  Further, Mayor Jacobs expressed that prior to any commitments from the County to bring forward amendments to the Interlocal Agreement, DPAC would need to demonstrate what the anticipated O&M is. -          Kathy Ramsberger stated the reset of the TDT Base was needed for Phase II.  Mayor Jacobs explained the difficulties with starting Phase II construction because the funds for that project would require debt issued against the credit of the Downtown CRA.  Given the recession, the downturn property values, and legislative actions related to capping increases in commercial property value assessments, it may be extremely challenging for the City to issue debt for Phase II.  There was general agreement amongst the DPAC Board members that Phase II should be put on hold.  Given that the resetting of the TDT is based on Phase II, there is no action required by the County regarding this issue at this time.  Mayor Jacobs made this point very clear. -          Since Phase II will not be happening any time soon, it was agreed that O&M costs should be developed without Phase II.  This means that the O&M analysis by DPAC staff and consultants can be expedited because the uncertainty of Phase II has been put to rest. -          The bottom line is that except for potentially minor changes to the City/County Interlocal Agreement that may be required to deal with the repayment of the $31 million City bridge loan, no action from the County is needed at this time. Look forward to hearing from you. Eric
Let's take a second to parse this, shall we? The DPAC board had miraculously shaved $14 million from its Christmas list and no longer needed the county's help, this after a spirited beg back in January for $30 million? The city wants its $31 million bridge loan paid back from tourist development taxes instead? Operations estimates are still a pink puff of smoke? The entirety of Phase II (the whole local premise, pictured up top, that the damn thing was sold upon) is NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. It's a fucking civil war! To make matters worse, Moye popped up with his own recount of the portion of the meeting that was missed by Gassman. To wit:
Eric, I would add the following text to characterize the first part of the meeting that you were not present. The meeting opened with several of the DPAC members commenting on the need to act quickly to make a May 9th deadline date or lose contractor bids.  They explained that a $1M to $10 max funding gap could then widen significantly.  They further claimed that $50M in donations already committed could be lost.  They explained that 2 different $10M donations which they thought were obtainable were now gone.  Mayor Jacobs reiterated that the May 9th is not a reasonable date.  She reminded them that the County has not wavered from its commitment and if there are changes, then they would have to go back to the County Commission for approval as agreement modifications.  She committed that the County needed to know how the operational component works and that she has been asking for that information for 6 weeks. Jim

Throwdown: ON! DPAC has already LOST $20 million in donations and stands to lose $50 million MORE?! That, math fans, is nearly all of the philanthropy the nice ladies in their nice circles have managed to bring in to date! Bluffity bluff bluff bluff. So county administrator Ajit Lalchandani forwarded these two missives on to his friends sitting at the OCCC, saying something about "minor changes" and "nothing further" being required from the county. "Have a great weekend," he wrote. All's well that ends well, right? Ha. Orlando chief administrative officer Byron Brooks (also from OCCC) fired this back on Sunday:

Ajit, I'm not sure what to make of this summary, so look forwarding to discussing with you. If it's County staff's perspective of the conversation at the DPAC board meeting, I am concerned that it appears the County is prematurely drawing conclusions, some possibly erroneous, about status of the project or what may or may not be required to make it a reality. It certainly seems to disregard the work OCCC was tasked to do by our two Mayors before we (OCCC) truly get started. So, hope the email does not represent an overreaction to comments made by some DPAC board members expressing their personal opinion - also without benefit of allowing the OCCC to do its work. Will call you. Byron

That didn't sit too well with original transcriber Gassman, who took to his computer Monday morning to defend the county and, well, himself:

Byron: It would not be an accurate characterization to suggest that the DPAC meeting summary was from “staff’s perspective”, “prematurely drawing conclusions, some possibly erroneous” or an “overreaction”.  The meeting summary was prepared after confirming my understanding with many people that attended the meeting.  If someone else attended the meeting and has a different interpretation, we would be open to hear their feedback.  It is unfortunate that you were not able to attend the meeting or you would have heard the same discussion.    Frankly, we were glad to hear that DPAC had closed the $30 million gap and are ready to start construction. Eric
Oh, yeah? Byron?
Eric, You are missing my point, which is the DPAC Board does not and cannot speak for the City, especially with respect to the financing of this project. Thus, I trust that Mayor Jacobs would not make a decision, or draw conclusions, regarding the fate of this project based solely on comments from members of a board in a single meeting. Eric, perhaps we should discuss in person or by phone to ensure we're not talking "past" one another due to the limitations of email communication. Byron
As of this morning, the county's distaste with the whole ordeal was still palpable. Moye, in an exchange with Orlando Sentinel reporter David Damron, wondered in typeface just exactly where the $14 million in proposed savings were actually coming from, saying, "For someone asking for money, you'd think they'd provide some detail." You know, specifically the detail that started this whole transparency landslide back in January when Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs issued her weighty memo condemning the absurdities of the DPAC charade. Can we please just put this thing to bed? Thank you.

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