News & Features » Columns

Council Watch

Billy Manes paying attention to local government so you don’t have to



Peeling back the sentimental 
sadness that draped this week’s civic support group – the deaths of University of Central Florida founder Dr. Charles Millican and Universal Orlando executive Jan Stratton brought a funereal feel to most of the afternoon – the general sense gleaned from the dais’ bonfire chat was that things are just about to get great again in the City Beautiful. The fountain will be back and better than ever next year! What’s more (because this has never been mentioned before), soon we’ll have tons of retail establishments lining the downtown corridor! How are we going to do that? Incentives.

“We want to temper the expectations,” said Thomas Chatmon, the Downtown Development Board’s executive director. Pretty sure that temper has already flared.

Item: The city approves agreements related to the 55 West development.

Translation: Back in the incentivized heyday of developer Cameron Kuhn’s bovine reign over Orlando’s imaginary skyline (hello, 2004!), it seemed like the enormous condo-monster 55 West was the best bet for saving Church Street. While Kuhn’s back was being scratched to the tune of untold defaulted millions, Tampa’s Euro American Advisors was laboring through at least a year of vetting to get the high rise off the ground. The city ended up cutting a deal with Euro American that included a $3.5 million tax rebate and a $7 million loan, but things did not go smoothly – construction was delayed in 2005, so in exchange the city was promised a freaking antenna atop the building. Half a decade later and the city is still struggling with the now-standing condo project. Hell, given that it boasted a “For Rent” banner flapping in the dustbowl winds for some time, who knows what it is? Just like your grandmother, Euro American defaulted on its loan, leaving the Dutch lending company FFWO to figure out the project’s future. To that end, the city is restating its incentive terms on the project with a few modifications, reportedly because FFWO may have some potential buyers on the line. The main changes are, duh, it’s not going to be condos anymore but rather apartments that will probably later become projects. There will be 401 rental units in the 33-story tower with “potential office and hotel space” – just warm bodies, that’s all we’re asking for – and $1.9 million dollars floated by the city for an additional 100 parking spaces in the garage. To make it all smell a little sweeter, the city is also demanding that 9,600 square feet of the behemoth be subleased – free of charge, save the requisite annual common area maintenance fees of $84,000 to be paid by the city – to Mad Cow Theatre. Fun! (Unless you’re Commissioner Phil Diamond. He voted no.) Let’s just pretend that recession never happened.

Item: The city approves an agreement with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and the Heart of Florida United Way regarding donation 
meter funds.

Translation: In this season of kindness, it’s really heartwarming to see the words “donation meter program” pop back up on our advent calendar. You’ll remember that the city – the same city that has been spending tens of thousands to fight the feeding of homeless people in front of your beautiful children – introduced its philanthropic parking meter premise back in October. Instead of feeding (or paying) panhandlers with beer on their breath, downtown denizens can do their part by feeding a repurposed metal meter, then go home and punch themselves in the shoulder – “Well done, sir!” This agreement sets up the flow chart for how it will all happen: The city will pay $10,000 for the 20 parking meters; the funds will be collected by the city and handed over to the United Way; the United Way will then disburse said collections to the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, which will use the money to aid “self-sufficiency” among the indigent. You won’t see them at all.

Item: The city approves a service authoriz-ation with Inwood Consulting Engineers for the Boone Avenue extension redesign related to an Orlando Utilities Commission manhole.

Translation: The city’s going to see a guy about a manhole! Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. In its neverending quest to ease downtown congestion (while simultaneously adding to it), the city authorized a plan in 2007 to extend Boone Avenue past Anderson Street. Genius! Except while rubbing heads with the Florida Department of Transportation, the Expressway Authority and OUC, numerous obstacles began to present themselves. Key among those obstacles: There’s an OUC manhole in the way. Rather than move said hole, OUC has agreed to pitch in $75,000 to make sure there’s a bridge over it – a bridge over a troubled manhole.

Item: The city approves a contract between the City of Orlando and Sweatshop Media to create a documentary about the women of the Orlando Fire Department.

Translation: Yes, Virginia, there is an exploitative reality-television entity (documentarian?) going by the name of Sweatshop. And, yes, it is coming to town to chronicle the day-to-day hotness of Orlando’s own lady firefighters. The city will pay nothing for this indecent exposure but is certain to reap the benefits inherent to the filming of uniformed public servants writhing down greased poles. It’s getting a little Backdraft-y in here!

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.