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CREATIVE BY DESIGN

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;On a Friday afternoon, at the busy downtown intersection of Garland Avenue and Livingston Street, waiting for the walk signal has rarely sounded so complicated. Two young men in their 20s, each boasting a Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy photo ID dangling from their khaki belt loops, are debating with undue animation the merits of some hidden logarithm within an operating system.

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;"I know!" shouts one.

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;But what perhaps is not known is what's staring them in the face from under the I-4 overpass. According to the city, that 60-acre Centroplex parcel bordered by Hughey and Parramore avenues that houses the Amway Arena and the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in all of their bygone glory (their replacements are expected in 2010), and has been bordered by the University of Central Florida's FIEA for nearly two years, stands to redefine the way Orlando does business. The city plans a "creative village": a new kind of development aimed at drawing high-wage technology workers to a place where they can live, work and play.

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;But the question is whether or not a bureaucracy, any bureaucracy, can create a creative place. Don't bohemian places spring up more organically in the fertile ground of run-down inner cites that have what artistic types are looking for, namely cheap space?

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;"In reality, it's the last place in the world where those people are going to choose to live," says Brent Ryan, an assistant professor of urban planning at University of Illinois at Chicago, and co-chair of the school's City Design Center. "But if people are living there because of the image of that being the case, the development will likely be, as far as the developer's concerned, successful anyway. But of course we shouldn't pretend that we're really creating a creative environment in this type of situation."

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;Mayor Buddy Dyer commissioned the creative village concept team in August, gathering 16 local representatives from the creative, real-estate development, legal and technology fields. He gave them 10 city staffers for support and asked them to brainstorm a vision and some guidelines for the ideal way forward with this unique redevelopment opportunity, without worrying about how it will be paid for (the financials have yet to be addressed). A draft report of their work surfaced in December complete with graphs, charts and even a sketch of a village on what appears to be freshly unrolled toilet paper.

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;"The Creative Village," reads the accompanying vision statement, "will be a magnet for knowledge workers to live, work, learn and play — a place where high-tech, digital media and creative industry companies integrate with residential, retail, and academia in a neighborhood that is connected to the surrounding community and plugged in globally …."

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;"You've got to look at it," says Ben Noel, FIEA's executive director and co-chair of the concept team. "There's a big piece of canvas there. How to do it right? We started talking to the city about different concepts of what it could be, what type of companies. What with 4,000 high-wage people working, that brings a lot."

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;FIEA itself is central to the plan, having received $4.2 million in start-up money from the state in 2005, a $5 million match from the city and a recurring $1 million per year from the state for operations. Acting as a UCF graduate program, the school came into being with the impetus of Electronic Arts in Maitland.

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;All of which sounds lucrative, but considering that each new semester brings only about 40 students to FIEA, how do you populate the place?

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;By creating a digital arts hub, says Noel. He sees FIEA as more than an educational institution; he suggests that will bring more companies and more schools into the fold.

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;The concept team estimates that the average yearly wage of Orlando's high-tech worker is $70,000, and reports that Orlando is one of the country's top 12 digital media clusters, with more than 6,000 direct workers for more than 100 companies.

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;"The reality of the world's issue right now is that the baby boomers are retiring," says Noel. "And I see it going on right now: cities and regions that are gearing up to cater to that 25- to 35-year-old bracket. If you don't get them, you're going to be in a world of hurt. So we need to get our fair share."

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;And, according to Noel, you get that share with high-end amenities. To that end, the team worked in "smaller, fluid groups" to devise a series of graphic breakdowns of just what the village required. One graph of "common themes" boasts a shaded bubble in the middle with the text "GIVE IT A SOUL!" Themes of "diversity," "spirit," "a technology showcase," "buildings," "streets" and "culture" float amorphously (save some further descriptions of "unique," "authentic," "3-D" and "lots of greenspace") around it.

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; "Without business, the Creative Village doesn't happen," the report warns. A mix of four to six companies of more than 200 employees, eight to 12 companies with 50 to 200 employees, 15 to 30 with less than 50 employees, and 20 to 40 complementary companies are suggested, with about 3,600 employees required altogether for optimal sustenance. Twenty percent of all 1,200 proposed housing options (both rental and for sale) should be "affordable" (meaning suitable for those making 80 percent to 120 percent of the area median income).

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;Perhaps the strangest caveat included is the notion of a "24-hour environment," something that clashes directly with the post-rave ordinances of city government, not to mention the escalating crime in the surrounding areas. "We don't really mean 24/7, we mean more like 18/7," says Noel, who suggests that there may be a 24-hour Kinko's included, but no real after-hours night life.

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;Suzy Allen, the vice president of film and digital media development for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission and the committee's other co-chair, says the committee handpicked its ideas from the world over.

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;"We looked at other communities, and it was like, ‘What other places do we want to benchmark? What places and what pieces of places do we want to benchmark?" she says. "It wasn't, ‘Let's look at downtown Detroit and how they've revitalized,' or ‘Let's look at North Carolina.' It was like, ‘Let's go bigger.' What places has Orlando already been put in the same category as a creative energy destination? So we looked at Singapore, we looked at Belgium, we looked at Paris, London, or even SoHo, New York, as sort of an aesthetic. We looked at SoHo, and said, ‘Why do creative people want to live there?'"

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;"Instant coffee," says Ryan. "I think the creative class hypothesis is, to a certain extent, correct. But I think cities are not getting the core of the creative class idea from the physical development perspective."

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;Creative people, says Ryan, generally gravitate to a place because it's been there awhile.

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;"The creative class is drawn to places like SoHo — older, informal, flexible, sometimes a little bit down-at-the-heels types of spaces," he says, emphasizing the importance of history, culture and even a sense of danger in desired destinations. "The challenge is that what most cities are used to doing is building megaprojects: arenas or convention centers or large-scale developments. The challenge is that the megaproject mentality and the creative-class mentality are almost diametrically opposed in that sense. The creative class is drawn to exactly the opposite of the megaproject."

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;Creative people also tend to gravitate toward places that are more colorful than a city like Orlando might want, Ryan adds.

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;"The question to ask is, ‘Is this going to be a place where there is a lot of graffiti?' Because in places where there are creatives, there are a lot of ratty old buildings. They might be boarded up, there might be clubs that are open at 3 in the morning, and there's graffiti. If there is not an environment where you can imagine buildings with graffiti, it's probably not a creative-class environment."

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;Whether or not this real-life Sim City can ever get off the ground may depend on its blurry financial future, but it will also depend on whether the outside, high-wage creative class has any interest in populating Orlando's version of where they ought to be.

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;"I hate to say it, but what I think could happen here is, rather than drawing the creative class, the important thing for the developer is going to be to draw people who think that it's drawing the creative class," says Ryan. "So, if I'm a corporate lawyer or I'm an empty-nester and I'm moving downtown, and I feel like I'm moving into a community where creative people are living, then that's just fine."

bmanes@orlandoweekly.com

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