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
“I didn’t think the plan was financially feasible,” Diamond says. “Unfortunately, that’s the way it turned out.”
Then again, the sky hasn’t fallen yet, and the city’s quite confident it never will. The CRA, barring any future real estate calamities, is fine. So too is the city’s budget, more or less. While there was a projected $12 million shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, the city had more than enough in reserves to cover it. And the city’s property tax rate is lower than that of most big Florida cities.
But even as the city sunk billions of dollars into these ventures, as high-rise after high-rise reached to the sky, as the mayor devoted his time and energy to securing the arena and performing arts center, the things that will define his legacy, the city’s many other needs – crime, Parramore, poverty, a stagnant low-wage economy, the homeless – seemed glossed over, secondary to those things that will make us “world-class,” whatever that means. Ask Dyer about those issues, and the answer you’ll get will probably boil down to “I’m working on it.”
The stats that rank Orlando as the highest-crime city in Florida and one of the most dangerous in the country are skewed because they’re calculated on a per-resident basis, and don’t take into account the 50 million tourists who visit each year. And anyway, crime is down from its mid-2000s peak.
The city is still digging out of the recession, which only “re-emphasized to us that you can’t be wholly reliant on tourism and home building as two of the major components in your economy,” Dyer says when asked about the local economy’s reliance on low-wage jobs. That’s why he’s pushing the Creative Village and Medical City – the 650-acre health and life sciences park near Lake Nona – so hard, to buttress “industries that we already have clusters in and that we can grow.” He went out of his way to note that “Disney has more engineers, actually, as employees of Disney than the rest of the engineering companies in Central Florida combined, so there are well-paying tourism jobs in the theme parks and arenas as well.”
When asked about his administration’s perceived hostility toward the homeless – in 2009 the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty ranked Orlando the third-meanest city in the country toward the homeless – he responds with an anecdote: “One of my police officers yesterday was talking to me about the homeless. He said there’s a lot of new homeless, and they say that a lot of people move here who are transients because it is known as a place that is particularly friendly to the homeless. A comment was made by one of them, ‘Hey, I can get up to five meals a day in downtown Orlando.’”
Next year, he points out, the Coalition for the Homeless will open a new, long-needed men’s service center, funded by $6.6 million from the city and county. That more comprehensive center will replace the old men’s pavilion – an unsettling, sometimes-dangerous, concrete-floored open-air warehouse where homeless men can spend the night – but it will also serve fewer people.
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