Church Street Station soon may be the city's cultural haven, featuring galleries and theaters, a second Enzian Theater film screen, an Improv Comedy Club and a hush-hush venture with Lou Pearlman's Trans Continental Records. At least that's what Elizabeth Maupin, the Sentinel's theater critic and ex-officio member of the Downtown Arts District Board, reported on the daily's front page last week. Within the next year, she quoted developer Robert Kling as promising, "Church Street Station will be a different venue with a lot of excitement."
Sound too good to be true? It is. Even the Sentinel quickly realized it. The next day, a business reporter took a more sober look at the simmering idea, revealing that necessary renovations to the mostly vacant and shuttered former tourist attraction would run at least $7.5 million. Contrary to the boast, Orlando and Orange County were offering only "moral" support at this stage, as Hood herself put it in the followup.
Even that virtual mea culpa -- which, unlike Maupin's front-page announcement, was buried inside the local section -- didn't tell the whole story: Enzian director Phil Tiedtke hints that Winter Park is as likely (if not more) a resting spot for his second screen. And The Improv, although reported as a done deal, isn't; Tony Baldino, president of the national chain of comedy clubs, says nothing's final. Trans Con, which birthed the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and other current pop-music standard-bearers, is otherwise keeping mum on what apparently might be its first storefront attraction.
As for Kling's sudden embrace of the visual arts, don't believe it. Just ask bohemian graffiti artist Robin Van Arsdol, who isn't waiting for anyone's trial balloons to take hold and went ahead this past weekend with his Lower West Side Interactive Arts Street Festival on West Church Street. Van Arsdol leased a floor in Church Street Exchange until Kling took over last summer and booted him. Upon reading the first Sentinel story, Van Arsdol asked for his space back, only to have Kling tell him, "That's not what we want."
Still, there is some genuine good news. A temporary home has been promised to Orlando Black Essential Theatre and the Orlando Youth Theatre in the Church Street Station storefront that formerly housed the Buffalo Trading Co. space. Renovations will be subsidized by the city with a portion of the $237,600 raised from Jan. 31 auction of the downtown LizArt statues. This is the second time the youth theater has been promised a city-subsidized space downtown; the first promise collapsed because the planned location stood in the way of a possible performing arts center. (Speaking of the auction, Hood didn't share her "Year of the Arts" plans that evening as promised. Her spokeswoman said the announcement would come at Hood's "State of the City" speech in March, after her arts czar, Brenda Robinson, had more time to prepare.)
According to insiders, Kling would like to see arts groups locate within his redevelopment, but only if they represent a money-making proposition for him. "I don't think `Kling's` focused on a plan," says one observer. "He's looking for government support."
Kling refused to comment for this article. Nonetheless, as Van Arsdol's festival proved Saturday, the visual arts continue to thrive outside of anyone's comfort zone. Held in conjunction with a three-night open-house at Van Arsdol's West Church Street gallery, the festival was the famously independent artist's way of thumbing his nose at the "inner circle."
Even Gallery at Avalon Island owner Ford Kiene, who is definitely in that circle, is looking outside of Kling's redevelopment for his just-announced venture with Winter Park artist Jamali. It will be downtown, but not on Church Street.
"What `Church Street Station's` gonna be, I don't know," confesses Robinson, whose more formal title is director of cultural affairs for the city. "We all want to know. I guess they'll let us know when they're ready."