Let's take a walk around the exciting, vibrant Church Street Station area of downtown, marveling as we go at all the changes under way -- courtesy of downtown saviors Lou Pearlman and Robert Kling -- that will soon bring life to this moribund corner of our city. Come on, it'll be fun!
Our tour begins at the intersection of Garland Avenue and Church Street, where by Dec. 31 -- per the agreement between the developers and the city -- the place will be crawling with at least 500 beautiful, stylish, creative people imported from the Sand Lake Road headquarters of Pearlman's Trans Continental empire. Just close your eyes and imagine them talking on their cell phones, making dinner reservations and careers!
Rosie O'Grady's Goodtime Emporium, the rootin', tootin' saloon that helped make Church Street famous, is ... still closed. There are no signs of renovations going on inside either -- no plumbing trucks in the street, no hammers hammering, no plasterers plastering.
Right next door to Rosie's are two thriving (or at least open) businesses: the Improv Comedy Club and GameTime sports bar. Perhaps in these two we have a glimpse of the vibrant, cosmopolitan city we are about to become. But then both of these business were open before Pearlman and Kling unveiled their grand vision in February, so we can't really attribute their success to these two, now can we?
Walking east our next stop is the establishment formerly known as Lili Marlene's Aviator's Pub and Restaurant, which looks as though it closed last week. There are still candles on the tables. We can conclude from its preserved-in-amber appearance that Kling and Pearlman are either planning to reopen it as Lili Marlene's any day now, or they haven't done a bloody thing to it in five months. We'd conclude the same thing for Phineas Phoggs next door, but those mirrored windows make it hard to see what must be a fantastic new business just waiting to bloom on Church Street.
On the south side of the street we find ... much the same story. The Cheyenne Saloon looks like it hosted its last line dance just hours ago and will host its next one hours from now. Another re-opening from the dynamic duo? Must be. To even entertain the thought that they have done little or nothing toward fulfilling their agreement to put Church Street back on its feet would be sad indeed.
The Bumby Arcade is also empty and unchanged, though there is an advertisement in the window for Louis' Downtown Restaurant around the corner.
Sarcasm aside, I've noted several times in this space that Kling and Pearlman are the Mutt and Jeff of downtown revitalization and predicted that their plans were going nowhere. Pearlman's announcement July 12 that his plans are officially going nowhere seem to bear me out.
But the fact is these two never got started. If they'd been working diligently before Pearlman's Wilhelmina modeling agency was besieged by dissatisfied customers and an unhappy State Attorney General, there would be some obvious evidence.
Since February, F.F. Station, the company that owns Church Street Station, has only pulled five permits for the nine tax parcels that make up the Church Street Station area. Only one of the five is an interior demolition permit. The rest are for plumbing, electrical and gas upgrades. This is odd, considering that, per the agreement with the city, F.F. Station and Pearlman's various companies "shall have invested not less than $9,000,000 in renovations and/or tenant improvements to the Church Street Station and $2,500,000 in furnishings and equipment within the Property for a total capital investment of $11,500,000" by the end of this year. To spend that kind of money, they would have to have been hard at work for a long time. And they'd have to pull scores of permits.
Then there's the stipulation that Kling and Pearlman move 500 employees downtown by the end of the calendar year. Needless to say there was never anything going on toward that end. Ditto for the requirement that they "cause to be operating and open to the public" at least 75 percent of the retail frontage space on Church Street by Jan. 1, 2004.
Pearlman and Kling have long since stopped returning my phone calls. Fortunately, when doing business with the city, their transactions are transparent for anyone who bothers to look. I wonder if anyone at the city has. I tried three times to find out who at city hall is monitoring the progress (or lack thereof) at Church Street. No answer.
If someone official is paying attention, I suggest they talk to Christine Novak, part owner of Whiteside Parts & Service in Orlando. Whiteside installs commercial kitchen equipment. F.F. Station hired the company in February to do some work in the Cheyenne Saloon and the Grand Ballroom. Whiteside was glad to get the job.
Five months and $13,215 worth of work later, Novak has yet to see a dime. "They won't pay me, and they won't return my phone calls."
Whiteside has been in business since 1958. Now Novak is thinking that Church Street's new owners might be the end of her old business. "I'm going to go belly up if I don't get the money," she says.
Makes you feel all warm and cuddly about the two men getting your tax dollars to rebuild Church Street, doesn't it?