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’s proof that downtown is becoming, as Dyer so often puts it, “world-class.” And that’s not counting SunRail, the commuter train Dyer championed that will begin service next year; the Orlando Magic’s proposed $100 million arts and entertainment complex; or the Creative Village, the planned redevelopment of the Centroplex site into a “tech hub” housing 5,000 high-tech jobs.
Of course, Dyer first pitched the Creative Village in 2007. Six years later, it’s a pile of dirt.
“That has not progressed nearly as quickly as we’d hoped,” Dyer told me, “but I have to say that everything that anybody in this country got planned in 2006 and 2007 drastically changed over the next three years, so I’m not uncomfortable with where we are because that’s always been a long-term vision anyways.”
In practice, Dyer has been less a consensus builder than a bulldozer, plowing over a pliant city council and an Orange County Commission that, after some griping for the media, almost always acceded to his will.
That’s not to say it’s all gone swimmingly. Beyond the Plaza’s woes, the Citrus Bowl renovation and the performing arts center have yet to manifest, beset by funding shortfalls and, in the case of the arts center, seeming incompetence. The mayor’s exuberance in offering tax breaks and incentive packages to developers, meanwhile, rubbed some former supporters the wrong way.
“Buddy is plenty smart,” says Doug Head, a member of the Downtown Strategic Transitions Team who, as former head of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, rallied his party behind Dyer in 2003. “It is my view that he’s completely lost his way in terms of being the progressive he said he was going to be when he went into office.”
“I thought he was very interested in seeing something happen downtown,” says Phil Diamond, the former city commissioner who ran unsuccessfully against Dyer in 2012. “I had the sense that [downtown] was his top priority, and he was willing to do things, even unconventional things, to see downtown improve.”
In the 10 years he spent on the city council, the diminutive, Midwestern-nice Diamond often found himself the sole objector to the mayor’s incentive packages, especially for condos that, in the red-hot market of the early 2000s, were probably going to happen without the city’s help. It wasn’t the nature of the mayor’s goals itself, Diamond says, but rather “whether they were good deals for the city.”
At least in some cases, Diamond’s concerns – about the venues in particular – were well-founded. Last year, Fitch Ratings downgraded the Orlando Community Redevelopment Agency’s bond rating because downtown property values hadn’t increased as expected. Fitch also suggested that the CRA had essentially maxed out its borrowing capacity in the venues deal. (The CRA maintains an A rating, and Fitch’s outlook is “stable.” The city says its interest rates were unaffected.) In addition, last week both the Citrus Bowl and performing arts center were back before the city council asking for more money, $25 million for the arts center and $12.5 million for the Citrus Bowl.
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