You can say a lot of things about Mayor Buddy Dyer’s vision for downtown Orlando. But 10 years on, you can’t say he didn’t have one.
A closer look at the how the mayor’s accomplishments measure up to the promises he made when he was first elected
Published: October 16, 2013
Thomas Chatmon’s introduction at Buddy Dyer’s State of Downtown address last week was nothing if not ebullient. “Every city has a mayor,” the Downtown Development Board director told the audience. “We have a leader.”
At one point Chatmon even attempted to kick off a sort of call-and-response chant in praise of the man he called “our general”: “If you believe downtown has progressed in the last 10 years, let me hear you say ‘Buddy’…”
“Buddy,” came the tepid, perfunctory reply, bespeaking support a mile wide and an inch deep. This was Dyer’s crowd – nearly 500 business-attired power brokers seated around circular tables on the floor of the Amway Center, eating cold chicken and pasta and washing it down with lukewarm cucumber water – but the mayor has never been one to inflame passions. Like it has been every year of his decade-long mayoralty, this State of Downtown was a pep rally for grown-ups – a place for hobnobbing and backslapping and speeches loaded with buzzwords for the suit-and-tie set, a time to celebrate how wonderful everything is. Also like every other year, Dyer’s speech was, well, quintessentially Dyer: boosterish, eternally sunny, unwilling to dwell on any of the city’s sore spots, middling both in its writing and recitation, delivered beneath the veneer of a plastic smile. There were no surprises or big reveals (excepting the names of the three new LYMMO lines: Grapefruit, Lime and Orange).
It did, however, brim with a sense of accomplishment: Despite the economic turmoil of the recession, despite the political fights over this building and the still-not-finished performing arts center down the street, despite those few weeks back in 2005 when he was suspended from office following a half-baked and soon-dropped felony indictment, despite the sundry criticisms of the many deals he’s struck over the years, despite all the shit that’s been thrown his way, Dyer had seen the mountaintop, and he was here to claim victory.
“Because of you,” Dyer proclaimed, “we are experiencing a downtown rebound – press, that’s the quote, ‘downtown rebound’ – unlike any our country has ever seen. Because of you, we are on the verge of what’s going to be the most exciting year in the history of downtown Orlando.” (Those lines were bolded in the printouts of the speech the mayor’s aides gave reporters, just to make sure we got the point.)
There’s no doubt that Buddy Dyer has over the last decade fundamentally imprinted his vision into downtown’s DNA. But for all the shiny glass-and-steel hood ornaments erected on his watch – for all the sterile but pretty facades forged to manufacture a “scene” for platinum cardholders, for all the generic, soulless commoditization that downtown planners mistake for culture – what’s under the hood isn’t always so alluring. Orlando remains an epicenter of the foreclosure crisis and the crime capital of Florida. At last count there were more than 10,000 homeless people who call our city home, and the city’s response has mostly been to push them out of sight, out of mind, going so far as to ban do-gooders from feeding them in public parks, where condo-dwellers might be discomfited by their presence. Central Florida, meanwhile, having long ago latched tightly to Disney’s breast, has the lowest median wages of any major metropolitan area in the country. Parramore, the blighted, mostly black district on downtown’s west side, looks much the same as it did a decade ago, with boarded-up windows and crumbling homes – once you drive a block or two past the arena, anyway.
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