How desperate is the city to build Rich DeVos' Golden Pleasure Dome™ right friggin' now? So desperate that it's about to spend $3 million and toss out the last few Parramore landowners who stand between Mayor Buddy Dyer and his dreams of eternal glory, or between DeVos and his dreams of an even fatter wallet.
Since September 2006, the city has been gobbling up the parcels it wants to use for RDGPD™, which it calls the "events center" because that sounds all warm and fuzzy.
But there's a problem. Though the city has successfully bought 90 percent of the land it wants, there are three holdouts. The city is negotiating "in good faith," as city documents insist, but just in case things don't move along quickly, City Hall is about to turn the screws.
Here comes eminent domain. Buried on the June 4 consent agenda — which we're sure wasn't so no one would notice — the Orlando City Council passed a "resolution of necessity." In non-parliamentarian English, that means it's so damn important to buy this land now that the city will do whatever it has to do. And if the property owners don't cooperate, the city will just take it.
Remember that eminent domain Supreme Court case that got conservatives' undies in a bunch a few years back? Well, this is a little different. There, the city of New London, Conn., wanted to condemn property and resell it to a private developer so he could make lots of money. Here, we want to condemn property and use it to make a gazillionaire richer.
Don't feel too bad for the landowners, though. In 1980, Charlie Salter bought land at 236 S. Bryan Ave. for $20,000. The city wants to give him $641,000 for the same property today. Last year, a company called 228 S. Hughey Holdings Inc. paid $700,000 for a commercial building. The city is offering $1.7 million. A nice little profit there, considering how stagnant the rest of the downtown real estate market is.
Oh, by the way, the money for this land is coming from the city's general fund. Which means the city could have spent it on other stupid things, like cops. Remember that the next time someone tells you tourists are paying for everything.
Since we're talking about the whole "building sports facilities will make our lives worthwhile" thing, it's probably worth mentioning that Orlando commissioner Betty Wyman used to be the head of Florida Citrus Sports Association, the same group lobbying the city for a $175 million renovation of the barely used Citrus Bowl. She voted for that renovation anyway when the Orlando City Council passed it May 21. She's not in charge of FCSA anymore, so her vote was probably legal (therefore, she wasn't allowed to recuse herself). Just thought you'd like to know.
You would have to forgive us for complaining about how hot it was outside the Landmark buildings on Robinson Street May 31 — summer just pops up and surprises you like an unwanted baby — but we could hardly forgive ourselves considering the circumstances: a mini immigration-rights rally staged by members of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Farmworker Association of Florida, Democracia Ahora, ACORN and Service Employees International Union.
A polite, bilingual gaggle of concerned citizens staged a media moment just long enough for the perky blonde Fox 35 reporter/camerawoman to squeak her appreciation of one protester's earrings. Then they got down to the business at hand: delivering more than 1,000 signed postcards culled from grass-roots canvassing of local residents to the office of one U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez. The postcards emphasized the need to factor humanity into the immigration reform that is currently fizzling on the Senate floor. "I support bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that reunites families, ensures national security, protects workers, and provides a path to citizenship for immigrants who uphold and embrace American values of hard work, family, patriotism, and faith," they read.
Regardless, trouble came a-knockin' when the group — plus media — tried to enter the Landmark building. A scraggly gray-haired security guard insisted that only five people could enter. Upstairs in Martinez's office, things were equally chilly, with ACORN rep Susannah Randolph detailing a lobby confrontation where she made it clear to Martinez's cronies that they did not perceive the reception to be "very inviting."
"The message was delivered," she said defiantly. "And we will be back."
Us too. Only next time in shorts.
We trotted off to the annual Gay Days kickoff at the Orlando Science Center May 29 in hopes of rubbing elbows with the elite group of wealthy queers who finance everything gay. And we weren't disappointed. Naturally, Patty Sheehan could be heard in the background detailing the feat of a lesbian being elected to the city council (we'd heard that one before).
Just when we thought it couldn't get any more exciting, camera crews circled the elevator. The president? A rock star? Not quite.
Instead, it was gay-friendly Buddy Dyer easing out of the elevator, primed and grinning. Flanked by cameras, Buddy circled through the event doling out the obligatory greetings, though for the record we didn't see him kiss any babies. Forty-five minutes later he was gone. Buddy's gay-friendly, but not too gay-friendly.
Speaking of gay-friendliness, the Orlando Sentinel was walking the same tightrope last week. A small army of queers descended on the city in one of the biggest tourism events of the year, so the paper of record couldn't really ignore the fact; that pesky journalism thing, you know. On the other hand, the Sentinel's readership is largely codgers and conservatives, neither of whom really want to read about a big fag invasion in Bibleville. What to do, what to do?
What the Sentinel did was take the easy way out, natch. Their entire coverage of Gay Days amounted to an 88-word story noting that the Marys were coming, a mention or two in a political column, a photo caption and a story about how Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty likes to welcome queens to town from a distance. Because if you ignore something, it doesn't really exist.
This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes, Deanna Sheffield and Bob Whitby.firstname.lastname@example.org