The Orlando Downtown Plan Passes

Three Cheers for the Democommie Mayor of Orlando and his willing Orange County Republican Mayor fellow traveler!

The greed for millions in bribes on the part of these politicians will make for a better Downtown Orlando for the majority of honest citizens, as the drug den and crime scene known as "Parramore" ("Sin City" would be more accurate) is on the fast track to destruction.

The smart money says most of the property has been sold to investors who will blitz Orlando's worst slum into the pages of infamy and build nice middle and upper class homes on the vacant property.

The "Bum's Rush To The Door" is also scheduled for the bleeding heart enablers of drug addiction & crime in Orlando: The Union Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, and the worst of the lot, the Government controlled abortion known as "Coalition For The Homeless" on West Central Blvd. that allows drug deals and drug use on its property.

No doubt many of you reading this post are about to call me a racist, a person without compassion for my fellow man and very Politically Incorrect. I will plea guilty to the last charge, but in reality I only give voice to what many of you Insiders and Old Timers really know to be the "Bottom Line" to the "Change In Venues" in Orlando.

The Orlando Sentinel
'Vision fulfilled': Downtown venues plan passes
David Damron and Mark Schlueb

Sentinel Staff Writers

July 27, 2007

Orange County leaders late Thursday approved a $1.1 billion plan for a new arena, performing-arts center and major Florida Citrus Bowl upgrades in downtown Orlando that supporters vowed would bring boundless new jobs and entertainment to the region.

The Orange County Commission approved the venues plan 5-2 after a marathon meeting nearly 10 hours long, capping an intense lobbying effort by the region's arts and business establishment.

The watershed vote on the largest public building project in Central Florida history featured an unusual display of cooperation between city and county politicians.

"It's a monumental day for Central Florida," Magic executive Alex Martins said. "History will look back on this day in the same light as when Walt Disney decided to bring his theme park to Central Florida."

The agreement will pay for the new venues from a mix of tourist taxes, downtown property taxes, private contributions and other sources.

The deal brings a new home court and a 25-year lease for the Orlando Magic, an arts center with three state-of-the-art performance halls and an extensive renovation for the aging Citrus Bowl stadium.

"It's mission accomplished, vision fulfilled," said Mayor Rich Crotty, moments after the vote at 11:35 p.m.

Crotty and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer raised their clasped hands in triumph after the vote.

"We've really been focused on the revitalization of downtown and Parramore, and this is really going to be a shot in the arm for that," Dyer said.

Earlier, the board listened to hours of official presentations and public testimony before starting its own debate. Most of those attending were in favor of the project, and dozens of them filed to the microphone to implore commissioners to approve it.

"I don't think you'll ever get a better deal. . . . If you come back later, it's going to be 10 times the cost and 10 times the headaches," former Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick told the board.

County commissioners weren't completely sold on the plan at first, and several offered a handful of amendments. One requires each facility to use eco-friendly "green" designs and another requires the Magic to build five community gymnasiums. Commissioner Teresa Jacobs added a measure requiring the Citrus Bowl to wait for the pot of tourist taxes to grow before launching construction.

Several other amendments failed, including a call for a referendum by Commissioner Fred Brummer. He also pushed unsuccessfully to strip the city and county governments of their free luxury suites at the venues.

"You never miss a chance to improve a bad bill," said Brummer, who along with Commissioner Tiffany Moore ultimately voted against the plan.

Moore said the venues plan did not do enough to ensure Parramore residents of a better economic future.

But she was on the losing end of the vote. Crotty joined Commissioners Jacobs, Mildred Fernandez, Bill Segal and Linda Stewart in voting yes.

"The brass ring is here; let's grab it," Segal said.

Warning on trade shows

The plan seemed briefly threatened when a trade-show booking agent warned that conventions would begin bypassing Orlando in favor of Las Vegas, Chicago and elsewhere if the county spends tourist-tax money on anything but improvements to the Orange County Convention Center.

Ken McAvoy of Reed Exhibitions, the largest booker of trade shows at the I-Drive convention center, said his clients have "waited long enough" for the county to bring more amenities to the convention-center area.

"You're sending the message to our industry that you no longer care about conventions," said McAvoy, saying he would consider sending conventions to other cities in the future if the county voted to fund the venues.

McAvoy's remarks followed a presentation by two I-Drive-area developers with a competing venue plan.

But Crotty pointed out that the county has spent more than $1 billion on its convention center, including an expansion that opened just five years ago.

Backers of each of the three venues have tried and failed to get their projects off the ground in the past.

Frederick and former Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood each pushed for a performing-arts center to replace the aging Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. The Magic pushed for a new arena in 2001 and nearly succeeded in getting a major renovation -- until the Sept. 11 terror attacks caused tourist taxes to plummet. And just three years ago, Citrus Bowl backers were saying a $50 million renovation could land the stadium a Bowl Championship Series title game.

Dyer began pushing all three projects not long after he was elected, but he didn't get much traction with Orange County officials at first.

Momentum slow to build

The proposal still seemed to lag until late that year, when Frederick publicly chided Dyer and Crotty for not showing leadership on the issue. About five months later, Crotty backed increasing the tourist tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, providing crucial funding for the deal. He earned key support from the hospitality industry by pledging half the money for more tourism marketing.

Unlike expensive projects in Central Florida's recent past, such as light rail and a proposed tax increase for transportation, the venues plan drew no organized opposition.

The deal also required the approval of the largely pro-venues City Council, which OK'd it Monday. But its fate with the County Commission was far less certain. That made at least four of the county commissioners potential swing votes, giving each of them rare leverage to push for changes to the deal.

But to even get to that point, months of grueling negotiations took place. The most aggressive demands were made by Crotty's bargaining team and Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie and her top deputy, Jim Moye.

By the end, it was agreed about half of the projects' funding would come from tourist taxes paid mostly by outside visitors who pay a bed tax on hotel stays. The remaining venue funds will come from downtown property and state taxes, and private and corporate contributions and donations.

Borrowing to get the projects started will start almost immediately. Repaying those bonds could take 30 years, unless future tourist-tax revenues are so robust that the venue mortgages can be repaid early.

That's a possibility if resort-tax collections climb as they have historically. But it's also a weakness of the plan. Haynie warned that if resort revenues falter or bottom out, Orlando's downtown taxing district would be on the hook.

Once interest payments over time on those bonds are added to the construction costs, a final price tag could top $1.8 billion for all three venues.

The $480 million arena is the most expensive project, and it will sit on land already purchased by the city on the West Church Street and Hughey Avenue block downtown.

The Magic and Orlando Predators arena-football team will play home games there. Plus, proponents say, more big-name concerts and other premier events should arrive once the new facility opens in 2010.

It's projected to be more than twice the size of the current arena, with about 750,000 square feet, and will hold more than three times the number of luxury suites. The old Amway Arena will be sold and could be torn down.

In various polls, the arena has proved to be the most unpopular project with residents, with many saying the Magic needed to pay for more of the final cost.

In addition to the last-minute gymnasium agreement, the team is pledging to pay $50 million plus interest upfront, lease payments with a present value of $12 million, plus other revenue-, bond- and insurance-guarantee provisions. The team also promises to cover cost overruns.

Magic owner Rich DeVos also promised to contribute $10 million to help build the performing-arts center.

The projected $425 million arts center would be built on Orange Avenue and South Street. It will play host to Orlando's philharmonic, ballet and opera groups, as well as attract a larger array of touring Broadway shows and musical, boosters say.

The complex will include three halls, one as large as 2,800 seats. It will also be surrounded by condo, office and retail development.

Boosters say Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre is obsolete, and the flood of private donations could indicate the community agrees. Backers have already raised nearly $80 million of the $110 million goal for private donations. The rest of the arts-center project's costs will come mostly from property and tourist taxes.

The $175 million Citrus Bowl is the cheapest of the three venues, but it has no private backers. It would further update and expand the 1936 facility west of Orange Blossom Trail by replacing the lower bowl, adding 10 new suites, adding banquet space and increasing the number of bathrooms and concessions.

Of the three projects, this one could face the largest funding threat. An amendment approved by commissioners could force a construction delay of a year or more if tourist-tax revenues do not steadily increase in the coming years.

"I wish it was a 7-0 vote, but you can't win them all," arts-center Chairman Jim Pugh said. "Now we just need to go out and build the damn things."

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