There are people living in Orlando. Real people, not just the crime statistics, the jobless and the foreclosed upon. That was the theme of the video piped in to City Council chambers Feb. 18 in anticipation of Mayor Buddy Dyer's seventh annual State of the City address to the body politic. Testimonials stitched together from predominantly downtown dwellers beamed out a reminder that, hey, we're not all suffering.
We're not coming out of a "lost decade" in Orlando, Dyer enthused at the close of the video. "This was the decade."
Never one to sweat the small stuff — or bother with the details — the mayor continued his headlong sprint toward his "Next Great American City" dream with delusional aplomb, sidestepping last year's recessionary humility in favor of more pie in a bigger sky.
"The state of our city is strong even in a time of struggle!" he cheered. "We are building on an incredible decade of accomplishment, rising to the challenges born out of recession and working to ensure a better tomorrow for generations to come!"
And just how are we doing that? Along with the usual bevy of holdover projects from years past, the mayor presented some new ideas — and new terms — to be chewed on, and probably spit out, by this time next year. We've addressed several of the more interesting developments for you here. Because, like the mayor says, it's all about you. And you're paying for it all.
Last year, the mayor hailed the city venues projects as his very own Franklin Delano Roosevelt moment — a sentiment echoed in an "I told you so" fashion this year — in that it would create jobs when the city needed them the most. Now that the Amway Center is scheduled to open in the fall, the numbers seem impressive: 300 people "placed in" venues jobs through commissioner Daisy Lynum's heralded Blueprint plan, with 800 more employed in non-venue jobs, and a total of $89 million in contracts awarded to minority businesses to erect the $480 million Amway Center, making up 35 percent of the total contracts (although the NAACP complained last spring that only 8 percent went to black-owned businesses in an area that boasts a 95 percent black population).
Meanwhile, the mayor only made slight mention of the fabled performing arts center — now rebranded as the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts — alluding to its ever-shifting ground-breaking date, presently scheduled for September. The city is standing by the assertion that the venue, when completed, will create 4,000 jobs and $240 million in economic impact. That the center is only being built out in phases in order to accommodate the crumbling economy was not mentioned. The mythical Creative Village, which was at last check scheduled to take the place of the old Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre and the current Amway Arena (the sale of which were factored into the venues deal at a lofty $90 million), was again presented as imperative to the city's livelihood, even if there might be no place to put it and no one interested in building it.
Oh, and the poor old Citrus Bowl is getting some new sod, so take that, ESPN.
"I cannot overstate the transformational impact of these projects," said the mayor of the recent confluence of rail events manifested as the $1.2 billion SunRail project and the $2.6 billion high-speed rail project (of which only $1.25 billion has been granted by the federal government). He shouldn't. The two trains were not engineered with each other in mind, causing a load of speculation from even notables like Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty as to how it is that the two forms of transportation are not connected. That didn't stop Dyer from jumping to utopian conclusions on job growth, connectivity, economic development and even re-employment of fired space-shuttle employees. "Our team is already working to capitalize on the potential of Central Florida's place at the epicenter of America's ‘Rail Renaissance,'" he boasted.
And part of that renaissance is our unlikely marriage with dirty old Tampa. "More than a symbolic connection, we have the chance to harness the power of a true coast-to-coast ‘economic super-region,'" linking our business and tourism centers, our airports, seaports and spaceport," said Dyer, asking the audience to consider comparisons to Dallas—Fort Worth and Baltimore—Washington (no, thank you). Apparently, plans are already underway between number-crunchers in Orlando, Lakeland and Tampa to capitalize on this lofty initiative. Downtown Orlampa, anyone?Orlampa, anyone?
"Our model for collaboration isn't just for new initiatives. We must use it to enhance existing strengths, like entrepreneurship," said the mayor, which means it's time for another awkward civic abbreviation. The Downtown Entrepreneur Zone (E-Zone) program sounds like gifted class for rich people. In fact, it's a partnership with Stirling Sotheby's, so it is rich people. "The goal is to give some of the brightest minds in America workspace, access to support services, then watch them create, collaborate and grow." What that means is that those entrepreneurs (or "E"s) who qualify will "align" with downtown property owners willing to cut them a deal on their rent, either by slashing the rate or trading services. If similar efforts by the city like the HBIF and the BBIF are anything to go by, corruption is guaranteed.
Orlando just hasn't been the same since a lightning bolt took away its liquid distraction last summer, and the mayor knows that. He's been wrestling with two competing forces on the Lake Eola fountain issue — those who know it would be best to keep its "distinct blob-looking green" facade from the 1950s and those who want modern sparkle. Turns out, the solution is a compromise. In the short term, Disney's "Imagineers" will throw something together over the summer, because surely there's a warehouse full of old fountains somewhere on Disney property, right? For the long haul, a request for proposals has been sent out to make it look old while acting new (synchronized squirts!) for $1.3 million, the amount the city hopes to get from various insurance policies. "We're close to completing a restoration plan that will bring back the Lake Eola Fountain better than ever as the icon of our city," said Dyer. Thanks. You needed firstname.lastname@example.org