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 can tell you I’ve never been involved in an issue that has more silos and more turf than the provision of homeless services,” Dyer says. “So the homeless population has certainly grown and the economy has had a large impact on them, but in terms of providing basic services” – his emphasis – “I think Orlando does a pretty good job at that.” In his State of Downtown speech, he announced a campaign to “raise awareness” about homeless children and families.
How would Dyer grade himself on what he once called the measure of his success, Parramore revitalization?
‘The best thing that our administration has done by far is Parramore Kidz Zone,” he responds. “By every measure, it has been an unmitigated success.” Launched in 2006, that program conducts outreach to Parramore’s youth through educational programs, summer camps and sports activities. “We had a record number of our Parramore Kidz Zone kids go to college this year, 27. Juvenile crime is down over the course of the start of PKZ almost 80 percent [87 percent, according to Dyer’s State of Downtown address]. Teenage pregnancies are down a significant amount.”
That’s certainly something to be proud of. But for a man who a decade ago told us to “measure my success” by Parramore, boasting so effusively of the Parramore Kidz Zone rings a bit hollow. Parramore appears more destined for a seemingly inevitable gentrification than “revitalization,” as the poverty and crime associated with that district are swept up in a slow tide of development aimed at making the west side of I-4 look like an extension of the east, and scattered such that they become some other neighborhood’s problem, preferably one a little farther from our “world-class” downtown.
“I don’t know if I would necessarily call it gentrification,” the mayor responds. “But my vision is a mixed-income neighborhood, and I see College Park.” Defined on his own terms, this is the proof of Dyer’s legacy: Of those 166 recommendations the Downtown Strategic Transitions Team offered a decade ago, 136 are either complete or “in progress,” the city says. The two major unfulfilled goals are the minor-league baseball team, which has been subsumed by the city’s more successful push for Major League Soccer, and the extended downtown drinking hours, which the mayor is still trying to hash out.
Whatever your thoughts on what Dyer’s done or how he’s done it, you can’t say the mayor hasn’t had a vision. He set goals, and in many cases – with some hiccups here and there – he achieved them. Many of those goals are unambiguously laudable: inching forward on better public transportation, for example, or the renewed emphasis on sustainable urban infill rather than suburban sprawl.
The question, though, as Dyer heads toward the homestretch of what some observers believe will be his final term, is what his legacy means for his successors, for the Orlando of 2020 or 2050. Behind the dressed-up facade of multimillion-dollar high-rises and venues, what is downtown Orlando, exactly? What makes it important or interesting? Or are we instead all dressed up with no place to go?
The mayor, for his part, seems contented. There’s stuff yet to be done, projects yet to be completed, but he knows that the Orlando he leaves behind will be bigger and flashier and, in his estimation, more “world-class” than the one he took over 10 years ago. Last year Dyer even flirted with parlaying his successes here into a gubernatorial bid.
He passed on that chance, because “we have a lot of things that we’ve started. Some of these things just take a long time to get done, and if you don’t have continued continuity of effort they don’t get done, SunRail being a good example of that. I just feel like I need to be here to finish the performing arts center, this soccer [stadium], Medical City, the Creative Village – and I just haven’t finished what I started.”
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