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
That drinking hours proposal, though fairly insignificant to the big picture, drew the biggest headlines and the loudest outcry. (Not coincidentally, it hasn’t happened yet.) The mayor was also criticized for excluding most of Parramore from the task force’s jurisdiction. But on the whole, it was a bold, largely progressive, even exciting concept. And then we saw how it would play out.
In early December came the first tangible signs of progress – and a foreshadowing of how the new guys at City Hall would operate. Dyer rammed through a $22 million incentive package for his friend and supporter Cameron Kuhn to build a $140 million mixed-use high-rise, called the Plaza, near Orange and Church, even though the city’s own records showed that Kuhn’s “probability of severely delinquent payment is higher than the national average.” Behind the scenes, the mayor’s team moved heaven and earth on Kuhn’s behalf, bending all manner of city rules in the process. At one point, Dyer’s team demanded that city commissioners sign confidentiality agreements about the Kuhn deal.
The Plaza still hasn’t shaken the stench from which it arose. It opened in 2007, almost two years behind schedule – the much-ballyhooed movie theater didn’t open until 2009 – and has been plagued by lawsuits ever since. Kuhn eventually declared bankruptcy and walked away from the project.
But at the end of the day Dyer got what he wanted. “How many buildings do you know that the original developer actually was the one that ended up making money off of them? Very few of them,” Dyer said in a recent interview. “And from a city perspective, it’s of no great consequence to us whether Cameron made money or didn’t make money. There’s a quality building that’s both residential and office and retail, some mixed use, with a movie theater in it.” More importantly, the Plaza made people “believe that we were going to stand behind everything that we said about revitalizing downtown.”
As the years rolled by, more mixed-use high-rises dotted the Orlando skyline: 55 West, the Solaire, the Vue, the Paramount. In 2007, Dyer pushed through his pièce de résistance, a controversial $1.1 billion deal to build a new arena for the Orlando Magic and a new performing arts center and to rehab the aging Citrus Bowl. (Of that package, the arena, by far the least popular project in polls, was the only one that happened on time.) Just last week, the city council signed off on a stadium for Orlando City Soccer Club, which is seeking a Major League Soccer franchise.
“We’ve done a lot of big pieces of what types of amenities you want in your downtown so that you can attract the bright, talented people that you want to both live and work in your downtown,” Dyer says.
Since he took office the number of downtown residential units has increased some 80 percent, to 15,000. Another 75,000 people work downtown. Under his tenure downtown has seen the construction of 47 “major projects,” as the city terms them, worth nearly $2 billion, everything from the condo high-rises to the new federal courthouse to the UCF Center for Emerging Media. There are another nine projects currently underway, and six more are scheduled to break ground in 2014.
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