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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

Photo: Photos by Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A

Photos by Carlos Amoedo

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

These are the things the mayor pays but lip service to. His administration has been premised on the notion that bigger is better, that if downtown is infused with enough skyscrapers and sports teams and “cultural amenities,” the ugly stuff will sort itself out.

Downtown is bigger and glitzier than it was a decade ago. Of that there is no doubt. There are mixed-use high-rises and a movie theater and Paul McCartney concerts and quality restaurants and at least one good cocktail bar and soon a professional soccer team. None of that was there before Buddy Dyer, and most of it wouldn’t be without him.

But whether all that means it’s better is a more subjective question, and not as easy to answer as Dyer would have you believe.

In January 2003, Dyer was a 44-year-old former state senator who had lost a race for attorney general to Charlie Crist just two months earlier. He was still licking his wounds when Gov. Jeb Bush appointed then-Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood to secretary of state. Dyer – a Kissimmee-raised, Brown-educated lawyer suddenly out of office after a decade in Tallahassee, where he’d fostered a reputation as a business-friendly, aisle-crossing Democrat focused on education and health care issues – pounced at the opportunity.

So on that frigid January afternoon, an invigorated, jovial Dyer – much more charming in person than behind a lectern – trekked up and down streets in his College Park neighborhood with me in tow, knocking on doors, telling person after person, “Hi, I’m Buddy Dyer. I’m your neighbor from over on Bryn Mawr. I’ve been your state senator for the last 10 years, and now I’m running for mayor. I’d appreciate your consideration.”

He had no audacious initiative or agenda back then. More than once he admitted to not knowing enough about an issue to comment. He wanted downtown to look like Winter Park’s Park Avenue with bigger buildings. He was open but noncommittal to extended drinking hours. He didn’t want the city to build the Magic a new arena but was willing to negotiate if it kept the team in town. He said he’d be a consensus builder.

The one concrete thing Dyer offered was a promise to finally revitalize Parramore, the blighted, mostly black neighborhood on the west side of downtown. “If I don’t get that accomplished,” he said, “I will feel like I’ve failed.” Several weeks later, during his inauguration speech, he reiterated: “You can measure my success as mayor of Orlando by my ability to rebuild this once-proud neighborhood.” 

For a man who campaigned in the abstract, Dyer quickly developed downtown ambitions. Soon after taking office he created the Downtown Strategic Transitions Team, a blue-ribbon confab of movers and shakers tasked with formulating a blueprint for the city’s core. Its 100-page report, “Downtown Orlando: 20-Point Strategic Plan,” released in September 2003, offered 166 recommendations.

Among its larger goals: keep the Magic downtown; build a performing arts center; lure a minor-league baseball team; construct a downtown movie theater; create “Cornerstone Projects,” including at the Jaymont-Tavistock block near Orange and Church streets; increase the number of parks; develop more affordable housing; improve safety; have a better downtown marketing program; and extend downtown drinking hours.

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