So the Mutt and Jeff of downtown development -- Lou Pearlman and Robert Kling -- have fallen out of favor with Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer. It's about time. Dyer getting tough with these Church Street hucksters is a welcome display of backbone, doubly so this close to an election. Pearlman and Kling will squeal like stuck pigs all the way to court, but Dyer is right to press them on every jot and tittle of this deal.
It stinks, and so do they.
The mayor's stand is a surprise and a delight; I, for one, was fully expecting the city to roll over and give the turdly twosome anything they wanted once the initial agreement expired Dec. 31. That was the city's attitude early last year when Glenda Hood was in charge. You say you're gonna breathe life into Church Street? Here's a blank check, boys, have at it!
In case you've forgotten just how farfetched this deal is, a few examples should serve to remind you:
Orlando required Pearlman and Kling to put on a dinner-theater-type show called "From Motown to O'Town" twice weekly, beginning no later than March 31. Never mind that the idea sucks, and that Orlando is already awash in bad dinner theater (see "We went, we watched, we ate," Nov. 27, for proof). Since when does the mayor's office reserve artistic control? Was Glenda going to approve the script?
The city also called on Pearlman and Kling to build a museum dedicated to "highlighting the history and personalities associated with Transcontinental (sic)," to be open by March 31. Not many people even want to listen to the Backstreet Boys anymore, let alone immortalize them.
Further, Pearlman and Kling were to stage a minimum of 150 outdoor, evening street events in 2004, 200 such events in 2005 and 250 in 2006. What constitutes an outdoor, evening event? The contract doesn't specify. One can only assume that Big Lou wandering into the street to eat his dinner must count, because otherwise the numbers are fairly ambitious.
The Church Street agreement is chock-a-block with such silly stipulations, but why belabor the point? That the city, via the Downtown Development Board, got into such minutiae in the first place speaks to Hood's desperation to do something, anything, about this once-popular attraction.
Dyer, on the other hand, has taken a good look at the folks he's dealing with and clearly doesn't like what he sees. They waited six months to start construction then wonder why they can't finish on time. They ask for city money with one hand and withhold their own property taxes with the other.
And they're as shifty as a sand dune. The number of jobs Pearlman is going to bring downtown, for example, bears some serious scrutiny.
He's contractually required to put 500 people, earning an average of $31,000 a year, in Church Street. Recently, however, Pearlman conceded that he really doesn't have 500 employees. More like 300.
I doubt the actual figure is half of that.
I took a little spin around the parking lot at Trans Continental's HQ on Park Center Drive on a recent Friday afternoon and counted 69 cars; 11 of which were parked in visitor's spaces. I'll give Pearlman the benefit of the doubt and say that the 11 are employees who snagged prime spots. Do the math and you get 4.34 people per car. Are Trans Continental employees among the most enviro-friendly carpool addicts in the nation, or is Pearlman inflating his payroll a tad? You decide.
But before you do, consider that Trans Continental's occupational license from the city, which every business has to have, lists 151 employees at Park Center Drive.
It is possible that Pearlman plans to consolidate his other business interests -- like his NYPD Pizza chain -- at Church Street. But unless things have changed since I was in college, nobody working at a pizza parlor (except perhaps the manager) is making $31,000 a year.
There was a time, not long ago, when Pearlman probably did have 500 or more employees; the grand old days of Options Talent/ Trans Continental Talent/ Wilhelmina Scouting Network/ whatever the business was called. Recall, however, that Pearlman very publicly, and very indignantly, disavowed all connections with that troubled organization because it was besmirching his good name. He stated that Internet talent scouting will have no place on Church Street. He even filed a $100 million lawsuit against his former Internet partners to get the point across.
Not much has happened since the suit was filed in October, but Pearlman got his big headline in the Orlando Sentinel, and then everyone forgot about it. You can't buy publicity like that.
As for Kling, his record of bankruptcies in Florida and Washington, D.C. speaks for itself. Here is what one colleague, a Washington, D.C.-based architect who worked with him on deals in the 1980s and asked not to be named, has to say of Kling: "I don't think anybody would tell you Robert's ethical standards were of the highest level. He had trouble with that part of the business."
Feb. 15 is the day the agreement between Orlando and Pearlman and Kling expires. It should be the last day the city has anything to do with them.