Perhaps you’ve been swept up into the social media parade of your connected friends getting hard-hat tours of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts shell of cantilever roofs and dirt piles of promise, so much so that you’ve forgotten to stop yourself for a minute to think about exactly what is going on with the $500 million boondoggle that is set to open in November. While you weren’t looking, the looming inevitability of the project came to a sort of head this week, almost exactly one year after it appeared that public pressure had pushed the project back in the right direction (see “Dramatic pause,” Jan. 23, 2013) of being an actual performing arts center that served, at the very least, some of the local arts organizations that allowed it to even exist as an idea. Namely, after pretending it could operate on its own, the DPAC brass acquiesced and brought in the Florida Theatrical Association and its 13-year leader Ron Legler.
Ha! We were all fooled. Last week, following a pretty scathing op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel by an architect that called the project inefficient and dated before it has even had a chance to open, news broke that Legler would be taking a job as president of Baltimore’s France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in just two months. The Sentinel did its part to effectively eulogize “arts champion” Legler with a litany of quotes from deep in the arts community, as well as a surprising one from Mayor Buddy Dyer, who last year fought to keep Legler in the DPAC equation: “I am excited for Ron as this is a great professional opportunity for him. But Ron’s advocacy for the arts in Orlando will certainly be missed.”
But something about the development doesn’t seem quite right; the Sentinel barely mentioned the DPAC connection, for one. We reached out to Legler to discuss the soap opera of the background story that we’ve been covering for seven years, but, ever the gentleman (and likely mindful of his new contract), he only gave us the same “bittersweet” comment that he did the daily. More telling was an open letter from downtown philanthropist, designer, and friend of Legler Ted Maines (no relation!), who cut to the quick of what we actually know is going on here.
“Baltimore is a big deal and pays more money, and is, in every sense of the word, a step UP the ladder. Ron and Andrew [Springer, Legler’s partner] love Orlando so much, they wanted to stay put, but after everything this man has done for our community, no one was able to find him a suitable role in the new ‘Arts Scene Dynamic,’” wrote Maines. “In other words, Orlando is FINALLY headed in the direction that Ron has paved the way for, and there is no room for him at the table he helped build.”
Hm. So we reached out to former United Arts of Central Florida president and CEO Margot Knight, who was literally airbrushed out of the DPAC picture early on for raising concerns which eventually prompted her to leave town, and she offered similarly barbed wire.
“What a shame to lose the most knowledgeable person about presenting and performing arts centers in Orlando. It’s a great move for him and for Baltimore,” she demurred.
DPAC, meanwhile, has yet to respond for comment. Surprise.