It's easy to dream big and Mayor Buddy Dyer certainly did that in his annual State of Downtown address Oct. 27. A performing arts center, a new arena, a renovated Citrus Bowl, perhaps a new baseball stadium and a bunch of other projects are officially on the mayor's agenda. He asks us to share his vision of downtown, a bustling core of retail, fine dining, arts, sports, a movie theater, downtown yuppies and suburbanite families walking along crowded sidewalks to their favorite hot spot. A fine vision, indeed.
But making that a reality is an expensive proposition; at least $500 million, probably more. The city is struggling to keep its budget from bleeding red ink, and Dyer the Å¸ber-politician with an eye toward Tallahassee doesn't want to raise taxes. So how are we going to pay for Buddy's wish list? We're not sure, and neither is he.
Below is an unedited reprint of Dyer's address, which was given at the Expo Centre a few hours before Cameron Kuhn broke ground on the Premiere Trade Plaza on Orange Avenue, an event that was complete with cops outside protesting what they feel is the city's inadequate proposed labor contract. We've made some annotations, cold, hard facts that were somehow omitted from the speech. Decide for yourself whether Dyer's big dreams have a chance of making it in the real world.
STATE OF DOWNTOWN ADDRESS, OCT. 27, 2004
On August 31, 2003, the Orlando Sentinel reported, and I quote, "Homeless people, termites and rats the size of small dogs have taken over downtown Orlando's most coveted piece of real estate.
"Heralded by Mayor Buddy Dyer as the 'keystone block' … the buildings are the city's latest code enforcement nightmare. The block along Orange Avenue between Pine and Church streets has sat mostly vacant for more than a decade while plan after plan for high-rises, a movie theater, shops and restaurants have fallen by the wayside. The city's most recent hope of attracting a movie theater to the block appears to have collapsed." End quote.
Less than 14 months after that story was written we will break ground tonight on a construction project with high-rises, a movie theater, shops and restaurants and we will do so on our "cornerstone block," on Orange between Pine and Church streets. And I can promise you there will be few termites and all of you can decide if there are any rats in attendance at tonight's event.
The redevelopment of that cornerstone block comes courtesy of you, the taxpayers of Orlando. To help Cameron Kuhn secure the deal, the city and its downtown Community Redevelopment Agency paid out $22 million in cash, loans and tax breaks, including $3.5 million up front. Kuhn will pocket between $28 million and $40 million and, by his own admission, risk little or nothing out of his pocket.
As Frank `Billingsley, Executive Director of the Downtown Development Board` has illuminated in his presentation, what a difference 18 months can make. For those of you who attended this luncheon, not last year, but two years ago, stop and ask yourself if you really envisioned the rebirth and rebound of our downtown as it ebbs and flows with construction traffic and cranes.
As I sought this office for the first time 18 months ago, I talked about transformational change versus incremental change. I asked all of you to imagine a great city with a downtown that has restaurants and retail, a vibrant performing arts center and professional sports drawing in citizens from not just our city or Orange County, but throughout the entire Central Florida region.
Dyer has promised before to break ground on the performing arts center by the end of his term, in 2008. Jim Pugh, the chairman of the performing arts center committee Dyer put together, recently upped the ante by saying that ground would be broken within two years. The most likely location is a multiblock area across from City Hall, which the city acquired from CNL Financial Group in a land swap for the property immediately to the west of City Hall, on which CNL is currently building a high-rise. The other possible location is the Centroplex, near the Expo Centre that will house UCF's digital media program. The problem is money, or rather, a lack thereof. Dyer has said he wants to fund the arts center in part with state dollars that will come if UCF brings its arts programs there. The rest of the money will have to come from private donations and/or public dollars. Cost estimates for a performing arts center range from $150 million to $200 million.
For the first time, as Frank has pointed out, people want to work and live in downtown Orlando, and that, as all of you know, is the first step to ensuring the future of any downtown.
Simply look out your windows, and you will see the progress we have made in our journey to build the great city I have asked you to imagine.
We have accomplished much, but we have much yet to do. Frank Billingsley has done a great job of telling you what we have done; now I would like to tell you what else we need to do.
And in the process, let me just take a minute to say thank you to our city council members, who have embraced much of what we have done and have always been there to move our agenda forward these last 18 months.
Last year, Dyer demanded that commissioners sign a confidentiality agreement before they saw the tentative deal he'd worked out with Kuhn. Only one, Betty Wyman, agreed.
We have had great success in helping along the rebirth of our downtown core. Tonight we celebrate the groundbreaking of the Plaza project, which is not only a tremendous success on its own, but is a symbol for what we have managed to do in our downtown.
We need to remember that while 2 percent of the city's total land area is considered to be downtown, 14 percent of the city's assessed value is downtown and 24 percent of our city's employment is downtown.
Focusing our development efforts downtown will help control sprawl as we concentrate development right here in our core where people can walk to work rather than drive. One of best ways to control growth is to increase urban density. Density is an essential economic tool and an essential quality-of-life factor for people interested in living in an urban core.
Orlando has taken on the positive characteristics that most great cities have. Positive surprises and spontaneous encounters with people. Interesting architecture, arts, culture, shopping and dining.
There is, as folks around City Hall frequently lament, little in the way of downtown retail or dining, though many of the new developments on Dyer's agenda call for retail and restaurant space. The downtown arts district Dyer's predecessor, Glenda Hood, pushed for has never materialized.
Great cities in the 21st century know they must develop partnerships with great universities in order to develop the high-wage economy of the mind that every city now covets. Our relationship with the University of Central Florida has never been better. President Hitt recently used the phrase "University of Central Florida Downtown Campus," and I can tell you that we at the City of Orlando intend to do everything we can to make that phrase a reality in the coming years.
One example of that new cooperative spirit came just a few weeks ago when we announced the formation of the Orlando Performing Arts Planning Board, made up of 25 people from our community, with the charge of designing a performing arts center that will include the University of Central Florida's arts programs on the performing arts site. UCF President Hitt, Chairman Crotty and I will sit as ex-officio members of the group. Jim Seneff of CNL and Dick Nunis, who now is the chairman of the UCF Foundation, are serving as vice chairs, and Jim Pugh, President of Epoch Properties, will serve as the chairman. In the past, these efforts have been led by UCF or the mayor. This group truly represents a collegial effort by the entire community, including UCF, to pull together to get this project out of the ground within the next four years.
Earlier, I used the term "transformational change." Let me elaborate. The times that we live in are evolving daily. The pace that we receive and use information is faster than ever. Your expectations for our city are high, but not higher than mine. When I came into office, I found opportunities to use our healthy real estate market to the city's advantage. In fact, the city's own real estate holdings were a valuable asset.
Orlando doesn't have a healthy real estate market for office space, as was evidenced in June when a group of downtown property owners asked the city to change the deal it was making with Kuhn. They pointed out that by year's end, Orlando will have a problematic 17 percent vacancy rate, and that with Kuhn's planned 389,000 square feet, that problem's not going away. And since Kuhn's development is heavily subsidized, they argued, that gives him an advantage in luring new tenants. The city council approved the deal anyway.
On the north parking lot of City Hall, a new tower is emerging for the expansion of CNL, one of our largest downtown employers. The 55 West project mentioned earlier will rise from the site of the City's Pine Street garage. The recently approved UCF Film and Digital Media School will be located in this Expo Centre. This past Monday, our city council approved the selection of Lincoln Property and Dynetech Corporation's proposal to redevelop the city's parking lot No. 2 on Washington Street and Magnolia Avenue.
All four of these projects, conceptualized during the past 18 months, reflect our aggressive style of pushing forward on an agenda to make our downtown the most livable in America.
Future projects may rise from other city properties. As we are ready to christen the new Lynx Headquarters and hub, we have an ideal opportunity to redevelop the current Lynx location.
The city-owned parking lot on West Washington Street, currently under design, is being evaluated for potential expansion and to serve as our next development site in our city center.
Using our own assets to grow our city has been a wonderful choice in our toolbox of change in the downtown. But as we grow, we are still left with some of the goals of the Downtown Development Board unmet. For instance, a full-service grocery store is one of the last pieces of the puzzle in making downtown the 24-hour city we all envision.
The 24-hour city Dyer envisions still shuts off alcohol sales at 2 a.m. After initially promising downtown bar owners he'd look into extending drinking hours, Dyer backed off when the idea became a focal point of his Downtown Strategic Transition Team's report, and said it wasn't a priority.
I am pleased to announce to you that we have reached tentative agreement with a development group to build the first Publix in our core in decades. This unique project will rise on the south side of Lake Eola and will include a residential condominium above the 29,000-square-foot store.
On Nov. 15, three weeks after he made this speech, the city council approved a memorandum of understanding for the Publix in Thornton Park on a 5-2 vote, with the council's two fiscal conservatives, Vicki Vargo and Phil Diamond, dissenting. The development will also include 312 residential units and 8,000 square feet of office and retail space, and will bank $3.7 million in incentives and tax breaks.
But the measure of our success will not come in just the rebirth of our core. That was yesterday's measuring stick. Tomorrow brings a barometer of success with far greater challenges than we have faced these past 18 months.
If we are to succeed as a downtown, we must demonstrate our ability to bridge our core downtown with Thornton Park on the east side and Parramore on the west side. To those who have cautioned us that, quote, "jumping I-4 will be difficult" in our redevelopment efforts, let me say that all of our efforts in building our city will be an abject failure if we are unable to include the Parramore neighborhood in the rebirth of our downtown core.
Working with Commissioner Lynum, it is my hope that I will stand before you next year and will tell you that we have started new housing in Parramore, new restaurants and retail are planned for Parramore and that we are beginning to blend our neighborhoods with new and innovative transportation modes.
The mayor and Commissioner Lynum aren't exactly on the best of terms, after Dyer replaced her as Orlando's representative on the Florida League of Cities board of directors without telling her. Also, Dyer has addressed neither the Mayor's Parramore Task Force's recommendation to move the Coalition for the Homeless and perhaps all the social service agencies that serve the neighborhood's poor out of Parramore, nor the Mayor's Working Committee on Homelessness' recommendation that the city better fund affordable housing and substance-abuse programs. In the meantime, the social-service groups say the city's current policy banning them from expanding is at best a temporary solution, and at worst, is preventing them from helping the city's increasing homeless population.
On November 11th, work will commence on the Parramore Park Pond project. Two new code enforcement officers have been assigned just to Parramore and in the coming weeks we will announce a new Parramore initiative aimed at the eradication of drugs and prostitution. We are permanently focused on making Parramore a livable neighborhood that is second to none in our city for its residents.
And within the confines and parameters of Parramore and to the west are the sporting venues that are identifiable with our city. These venues have served us well for many years but now are in need of replacement or renovation.
This year notwithstanding, I take Coach O'Leary at his word when he says that his goal is to build a top-20 football program at the University of Central Florida, and they will need a top-20 facility to play in.
The Golden Knights rank among the worst in college football, both in record (0-11) and attendance (21,920 fans per game). Even if UCF improves to rival state powerhouses like the University of Florida or Florida State University which pull more than four times as many fans it's worth noting that both those schools have stadiums on their property that weren't subsidized by local government, and any additions to the stadiums were paid for by athletic associations, student fees or some combination thereof. Simply put, when teams are good, they draw fans, and when they draw fans, they have money to build or improve their fields.
It is clear that we must find, build or renovate the existing home for our anchor tenant at the Orlando Arena, the Orlando Magic.
The present arena configuration does not lend itself to producing the revenues they need to survive as a franchise. But more importantly, we need to focus our efforts and design a community around the arena that will support not only those who drive in for concerts and games, but the students who will attend the new University of Central Florida Film and Digital Media School to be located here at the Centroplex. We need to do all of this with sensitivity and involvement by those neighbors who live around the Arena.
The TD Waterhouse Centre is 15 years old. Replacing it will cost about $270 million; renovating it will cost about $70 million. Three years ago, billionaire Magic owner Rich DeVos demanded taxpayers build him a new arena, and threatened to leave Orlando if they didn't. The city and county refused, and when the local economy soured DeVos backed off, though he made it clear the issue wasn't dead. Dyer seems to agree, though it's unclear if he'll ask DeVos to shoulder the financial burden or leave it to the taxpayers.
This year, the Super Bowl will be held in Jacksonville. Jacksonville!
Here we are with more hotel rooms than any city other than Las Vegas and Jacksonville is hosting a Super Bowl and for one simple reason … they have a stadium that is acceptable to the NFL.
They also have an NFL team. No Super Bowl has ever been played in a city without an NFL franchise. Unless Orlando gets an NFL franchise, it's highly unlikely that the Citrus Bowl will ever host a Super Bowl. So long as three other Florida cities have NFL franchises, it's doubtful Orlando will ever get an NFL team.
The Citrus Bowl can be an incredible economic engine for our city and the neighborhood surrounding that area, but it desperately needs not a Band-Aid solution to mollify a bowl game or series, but a complete makeover of the facility. Yes, cosmetic changes are important, but if we are to succeed in making the Citrus Bowl a destination for championship bowls and professional sports, we need to accept the fact that the Citrus Bowl is in need of an overhaul.
Now, the bad news that overhaul will cost us about $150 million, and today I cannot tell you where the city or the county will find $150 million. But the good news is that if we are able to develop a funding formula, the Citrus Bowl, when we are done, will be one of the pre-eminent facilities for football and soccer and certainly an adequate facility for baseball. The city of Philadelphia spent $400 million just for their football facility. The city of Chicago spent almost $600 million to revitalize Soldiers Field. Renovating the Citrus Bowl is a bargain by stadium standards.
Earlier this month, Bill Bauman, general manager of WESH-Channel 2, told the Orlando Sentinel: "This is a lousy sports market. It's never been a big sports town … ." All those other cities Dyer mentioned have something Orlando doesn't: an NFL franchise, and thus, a reason to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit their stadiums. As for Dyer's confession that he doesn't know where the money's going to come from, Orange County chairman Rich Crotty suggested to the Sentinel that Dyer may have wanted to solve his financial problem via highly controversial, and ultimately failed, annexations near the Orange County Convention Center: "If I had a deficit in my budget, if I had to lay people off, if I had police protesting over their salaries, and if I had big dreams for downtown sports facilities that I couldn't pay for, I'd probably be looking for other sources of revenue, too," Crotty said Nov. 16.
And when we renovate the Citrus Bowl it will be an economic success for one very important reason.
We will improve the neighborhoods around the Citrus Bowl at the same time.
Do not think for a minute that we will ever have a first-class sports facility sitting near Orange Blossom Trail if we allow the acronym OBT to continue to be synonymous with drugs and prostitution. We need to be prepared to roll up our sleeves and go to work building not just a sports stadium, but a vibrant neighborhood that has many of the characteristics we are trying to build right here in downtown.
The east side of downtown has zoning that allows for skyscrapers, which encourages development; the west side is a mish-mash of industrial and residential surrounded by social-service agencies. And nearly six months after it was completed, The Mayor's Parramore Task Force's report has largely gone nowhere in City Hall, so it's unclear when exactly Dyer will be "rolling up `his` sleeves."
Stop and imagine, for just one minute, a first-class sports facility that can host future World Cup soccer matches; major, professional or college football events, and, yes, perhaps a weekend or two of major-league baseball; and host a AAA baseball team in the summer. And that facility would be connected by the Church Street Trolley running from downtown to Thornton Park.
Sound hard to believe? In a recent news article written by G. Scott Thomas of the American City Business Journal, Orlando was rated as having twice the economic capacity needed for an NFL franchise or a National Hockey League team. And we had the highest rating of any market not already in Major League Baseball, though our income base, Mr. Thomas points out, is 7 percent short of that sports requirement.
Out of 172 markets analyzed for new sports teams, Orlando was ranked third overall, behind Los Angeles and Philadelphia and ahead of Houston, Portland and Las Vegas.
Los Angeles and Philadelphia already have football, basketball, hockey and baseball franchises, and they still beat Orlando out. Houston, too, has pro baseball, basketball and football teams. Portland, like Orlando, has a pro basketball team. Orlando is driving distance from two separate football franchises (as Thomas noted in his article, and Dyer conveniently overlooked in his speech). There's little chance of luring major-league baseball here previous efforts to do that, including Dyer's pitch for the Expos, fell flat though a minor-league team is a possibility. Bringing minor-league baseball will either require expanding Tinker Field which won't be possible if the city expands the Citrus Bowl or building a downtown minor-league baseball stadium. Such stadiums cost, on average, about $20 million, though a stadium recently built in Newark cost $34 million.
Many here today will say it can't be done. There will always be one side of town pitted against another … the haves and the have-nots.
To those of you who share these views, I remind you of the poet's words, and I say, "Happy are those who dream dreams and have the courage to make them come true."
The actual quote is, "Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true." Notice, Dyer substituted the words "have the courage" for "pay the price." Interesting. Oh, and it didn't come from a poet, it came from Cardinal Leon J. Suenens, former Archbishop of Malines, Brussels.
My dream is for a city and her neighborhoods connected by a thriving core.
Fourteen months ago and indeed, just a few weeks ago, some of you thought that we would never see the Plaza on Orange rise out of the ground. Tonight we will make that dream a reality. Tomorrow, with your help, we make the dreams I have talked about today a reality, making next year's lunch an even grander celebration of what we have accomplished together!