Regarding the venues: I told you so. It brings no joy to say it, but there it is.
A quote from this column last January: "It's impossible to overstate just how pie-in-the-sky Orlando's financing plan for the arena, the performing arts center and the Citrus Bowl really is. This nearly $2 billion borrowing binge (the city and it's lapdog, the Sentinel, like to put the figure at $1.1 billion, conveniently forgetting about the interest that has to be repaid) is a house of cards that was specious in the best economic times. It is predicated on steady-to-rising revenues from the tourist tax, and rising property values in the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency. It was crafted by politicians who went out of their way to make sure the taxpayers ultimately responsible for the tab had no say in the matter."
Now we have the city admitting it can't sell the bonds it must sell to pay for Mayor Buddy Dyer's spending spree, and promising to take out short-term loans to keep the train wreck in motion. It still won't admit that selling the land underneath the Amway Arena — a minor detail the whole financing package is based on — is impossible, but that's coming. Oh, and tourist tax revenues — which are supposed to pay for a big chunk of all this — are down for the fifth straight month.
The real negligence here isn't that Dyer is plowing ahead with this ruinous plan. He's proven time and again that what residents of this city really want and need is of little concern to him, so it should surprise no one that he's determined to set his legacy in concrete.
It's more troubling that local media hasn't reported this story through, even though anyone with a mortgage realized there was trouble brewing two years ago. And by "local media" I mean the Orlando Sentinel. TV doesn't count, and as much as I'd like to think this paper has influence, the fact is that the real voice of journalistic authority in any city lies with the daily.
The Sentinel was a bouncy little puppy when it mattered, back when these deals were coming together. From the editorial page, to the sports page, to the front page, the paper wagged its tail and licked Dyer's face in anticipation of this slow-motion disaster. (They did the same for Lou Pearlman and Cameron Kuhn, practically peeing on the floor with joy when both men promised to save downtown. The Sentinel loves its saviors, no questions asked.)
Funny thing, though: The paper whose editorial board penned a column headlined "Wow" when Dyer and company rammed this deal through is finally asking the right questions. What about that global credit meltdown? What if tourism taxes drop? What if real estate values plummet? Why do we need to fix the Citrus Bowl? What's your fall back plan, Buddy?
But by now they've ignored the real story for so long I'd rather they kept at it; it's just more bad news at this point. Better never than late.
Mike Thomas, the paper's resident curmudgeonly columnist, has found religion on the venues. "I have heard City Hall is in way over its head with the billion-dollar-plus venues package," he wrote Dec. 2. "But this was the first inkling I had that Capt. Buddy Dyer ordered his loyal crew to load up the starship and blast off from Planet Reality."
Thomas was never really a venues supporter. In fact, he's one of the few over there that have openly questioned the sanity of the deal. But for him it's always been a matter of whether or not the city and county were doing it right, not whether or not it should be done at all. Here's what the lay of the land looked like to Thomas back in April of 2007: "The solution: Dump the Citrus Bowl from the list and use that money as a reserve fund for the other projects. Get more money from Magic owner Rich DeVos. And make the performing-arts center a priority, lest it be cannibalized to fund a boondoggle football stadium or a penny-pinching billionaire."
Welcome back to Planet Reality, Mike.
Here's a peek into the future as I see it: The arena will come nowhere near supporting itself. The city will realize it will be years before it can sell bonds, but by that time the payment on those short-term loans keeping Buddy's other fantasies alive will crash the party. Real estate prices downtown will continue to drop, kneecapping the Community Redevelopment Agency and cutting off another source of venue funds. No one will buy the Centroplex land. The performing arts center isn't happening anytime soon. And neither is the Citrus Bowl.
Look for those stories in the Sentinel sometime after the city declares email@example.com