Good Afternoon! Welcome to Downtown Orlando. Welcome to the Plaza Cinema Cafe and welcome to you, the cast of the next great blockbuster; the story of Downtown Orlando!
I’m fond of saying the difference between Orlando and most other cities is that their histories have already been written. We’re different. Here in Orlando, we are writing our story, our own movie script, if you will, every day. Every member of our community has a part to play in this story.
So, it’s fitting that we’ve gathered here to celebrate how far we’ve come focus on the unique challenges our downtown faces because of the national recession and renew our shared commitment to reshaping and revitalizing Central Florida’s urban core.
If you were there for my first State of Downtown address in 2004 you’ll recognize the excerpt I read from the Orlando Sentinel:
They are, of course, talking about this very spot.
You’ll recall that same day we celebrated the groundbreaking for this
building. We were supposed to open that movie theater when we opened the
building two years later! Unfortunately, it took just a little bit
longer. After a few bumps in the road here we are at Downtown’s movie
theater. If there are any of you that still have one of these movie
tickets we gave out at the first celebration, I’ve got some good news.
That ticket, it’s still good!
As we evaluate the State of Downtown Orlando today, I remain as confident as ever in the progress and possibility of our center city. I firmly believe our vision for a world class downtown remains on track, fueled by the determination and relentless optimism of those who share our dream.
Even as I say these hopeful words, the cloud of recession hangs over us. 2009 has not been a banner year for America’s urban centers. The effects of our country’s economic crisis can be seen and felt everywhere. Our residents have lost jobs. A lack of financing has depleted the pipeline of planned construction projects. The mortgage crisis has created huge challenges for our residential market.
But, what we’ve learned is that we have to measure success differently than we did even a few years ago. Gone is some of the rapid pace of progress we once enjoyed. Our mission now is to protect the important gains we have made and make carefully planned advancements where we can so that we might surge ahead once our economy recovers. That’s precisely what we have done.
We have not let Downtown Orlando whither on the vine – like many other emerging urban centers during this recession. In downtown Orlando, we are finding areas where we can succeed despite our country’s ailing economy!
Perhaps, the most visible sign of our enduring progress is our community venues. We’ve had to adapt and adjust our plan to build a Performing Arts center and improve our aging Citrus Bowl. Today I am happy to report we are back on track – thanks to the unwavering support from all our partners including the tourism industry.
The generous support of Dr. Phillips Charities and all the donors have been a critical component to reaching this milestone. Key within those philanthropic gifts is Disney’s commitment to the mission. So much so that the largest theater hall inside the facility will be named by Disney. Currently, the performing arts center has raised over 86 million dollars.
Soon, the Orlando Broadway, Ballet, Festival of Orchestras and Philharmonic will have a new, state-of the-art home. I cannot overstate the enormity of what this facility means to all of Central Florida. For 20 years our community has asked for a world class arts facility. Now, it’s within our reach.
We are moving ahead with the first phase of our planned enhancements to the Citrus Bowl. This initial stage of refurbishment includes aesthetic and structural work. It’s an important first step as we wait for the economy to recover and to maintain our role as host to great college football games and other major events.
A short walk from here you can see the Amway Center is rising into the sky and changing the face of downtown’s Parramore neighborhood. We know it’s much more than just an impressive building - jobs at the site are keeping businesses and families afloat. More than 86 million dollars in contracts to minority and women-owned businesses have been awarded. That’s 35 percent of the total contracts.
The north and south gateways to our downtown, Orlando Health and Florida Hospital, continue to grow and create vital, high paying jobs. Florida Hospital’s new Ginsberg tower is the newest addition to our skyline. Combined with their plans for an expanded “health village,” they have invested more than 300 million dollars into this community. Orlando Health’s downtown campus is growing as well. Their Current and planned projects total more than a billion dollars.
The healthcare industry, once again, ranked Orlando as the number one destination for medical meetings in the country – because of our current medical infrastructure and our budding medical city at Lake Nona. Our medical City would not be possible without the cooperation and partnership of Orange County and Mayor Richard Crotty.
Our plan to create a similar downtown infrastructure for the “creative class” is also forging ahead. A year after UCF opened the doors to its Center for Emerging Media; Forbes Magazine is calling us one of the most wired cities in America. More and more high tech jobs of tomorrow are being born here every day as the House of Moves, IDEAS, The University of Florida School of Architecture’s “City Lab” and TLC Engineering grow their downtown operations.
The economic crisis has put a crunch in our downtown residential real estate market. But, our developers are finding opportunity where some see only setbacks. Converted condos are now seeing an influx of renters, Central Floridians choosing to live in a more urban setting. In fact, Aspire at Dynatech Center and Camden Orange Court now boast occupancy rates of almost 95 percent.
A recent issue of “Retail Traffic” magazine says Orlando has everything in its favor to more quickly overcome the real estate crisis than other American cities. Some of our newest downtown residents are telling the world about their experience. Orlando's “Smile Ambassadors,” are living here in downtown and experiencing all our community has to offer – through the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s 67 Days of Smiles campaign. They are telling the world what it’s like to live, work and play in Orlando!
We know downtowns foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Bringing new businesses and the jobs they create to downtown remains an essential part of our overall plan to diversify and strengthen our City’s economy. This year 100 new businesses opened their doors downtown! Entrepreneur Magazine recently named Orlando as a top ten City to start a business.
Of course, we cannot forget about strengthening those businesses that have already made a commitment to our City. That’s why we launched our Buy Local Orlando program earlier this year, as part of our Strengthen Orlando program. Under Buy Local Orlando, we’ve leveraged the City’s resources to encourage residents and visitors to spend their money with local merchants. These cards entitle the user to a discount or special offer at businesses around our City. Already, more than 200 businesses have signed on to participate. And, 50 thousand cards have been given out to residents.
The Plaza Cinema Café is a great example. With your Buy Local Orlando card a movie here is half off, less than five dollars. You won’t find a cheaper ticket to a first run movie anywhere.
On the subject of finances, our City, much like the families who make up our community, has had to make hard choices about what to spend money on during these tough economic times. Faced with a steep reduction in revenues, Our City Council chose not to raise taxes on residents. Instead, we dramatically reduced the scope of our government in order to preserve the critical services people depend on. Unfortunately, we have had to suspend our Downtown Ambassador pilot program as part of our reduction plan. I want to thank each of our City Commissioners for their leadership during this extremely difficult budget period.
One area that will always be a priority is keeping downtown safe. Overall, homicides are down in our City more than 43 percent. Robbery is down more than 40 percent citywide. Assault – down more than 24 percent. This dramatic decrease in violent crime is more proof that our commitment to safety is working. Our IRIS smart camera initiative, launched last year in downtown has transformed one-time open air drug markets back into peaceful street corners.
Soon, downtown will also boast a new home for the Orlando Fire Department. This state of the art complex will centralize all OFD personnel and allow for quicker response time and keep more fire units available to answer additional 911 calls. The New Fire Headquarters will also be our fifth “Green” Fire Station, the latest step in our effort to lead the way when it comes to protecting our environment. With the help of our utility, OUC, we are encouraging all our residents to lead more environmentally-friendly lifestyles through our GreenWorks Orlando program.
A great downtown must have great neighborhoods. And, we do. Thornton Park, Delaney Park and College Park are all shining examples of the distinct urban neighborhoods that you won’t anywhere else in Central Florida. In June, we celebrated the four year anniversary of our effort to revitalize one of our City’s first neighborhoods, Parramore.
Block by block, we have transformed this neighborhood by helping lifelong renters own their first homes, opening new restaurants and retail establishments and even attracting national companies to headquarter and invest in Parramore. Last week, we broke ground on Wells Landing. Through the aid of more than three million dollars in federal economic stimulus funds, this project will add even more affordable housing to the neighborhood. This brings our total of new or rehabilitated housing units to more than 300.
Nearly all of the 2,000 children living in Parramore have been enrolled in the Parramore Kidz Zone program. There has been a 47 percent decline in juvenile arrests since 2006. Slowly but surely, we are changing the status quo in Parramore. 2009 also saw us claim another major victory in our effort to reshape downtown. This victory, though, is on behalf of those less fortunate. Our City and our partners throughout Central Florida have made ending homelessness in the next ten years a priority.
This year we received more than six million federal dollars, more resources than we have ever had before, to help the homeless and to prevent our residents from becoming homeless. In downtown, the capital funding support will enable the Coalition for the Homeless to construct a new Men's Service Center on West Central Boulevard and to offer much-needed case management and supportive services to the most underserved segment of the homeless population, homeless men. More than just a building that offers a hot meal and a bed. A facility like this one offers vital services that can transition someone from homelessness to self sufficiency.
We’ve accomplished a lot in downtown Orlando, even in
the face of the worst economic climate in modern times. But, we still
don’t know the depth or duration of this current recession. So, we
cannot rest on our accomplishments. Our focus must remain on generating
more interest in our center city –and ensuring that downtown businesses
thrive. To achieve this goal we are launching an aggressive Downtown
“What to do” in downtown Orlando is about to get a lot
more exciting, too, if you’re a fan of Arts and Athletics. In February,
SAK Comedy Lab will move into its new home at the City Arts Factory. The
Orlando Film Festival is moving to this very theater… the Plaza Cinema
On the sports front, this year we welcome our first ever professional indoor lacrosse team, the Titans. The Citrus Bowl will be home to our new UFL Team, the Florida Tuskers. We are also very optimistic that Orlando will be named a host site for World Cup Soccer matches in 2018 or 2022. Downtown Orlando will also see some winter sports. This holiday season you’ll be able to ice skate at Lake Eola Park. Of course, we can’t forget the defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Orlando Magic.
This time next year, they will be getting ready to play their first game in a new home. You can already see the excitement for the future. The Magic currently have the highest season ticket sales in the NBA. That season ticket sales mark is the highest in the history of the franchise.
We are also primed to witness the rebirth of Church Street. We are reinventing this historic stretch of Church Street as a mixed-use destination anchored by the Plaza and stretching past Amway Center into a rejuvenated block in Parramore.
Since my first day in office, we have said that expanding transportation options for downtown Orlando is essential to the future of our City and the success of our downtown. With our partners at LYNX we are working on adding to the service area for our downtown circulator, LYMMO. If downtown is to become all it can be we have to have rail transit. We have scrapped and fought to make SunRail a reality. After suffering setbacks in the past two legislative sessions… we are on the cusp of a breakthrough that is going to ensure the creation of Central Florida’s first commuter rail line.
Finally, we could not do a State of Downtown event this year without mentioning one of the iconic symbols of our downtown, the Lake Eola Fountain. I’m sure most of you know our fabled fountain had a slight run-in with Mother Natureand lost. In response to the lighting strike that struck down the fountain, we have seen a wave of emotion from our residents. They’ve written and called. They’ve donated money. Our businesses community jumped in and offered all sorts of help. Disney, Universal, Sea World and other local partners have offered their expertise in repairing or rebuilding our fountain. This much is clear, the Lake Eola Fountain is much more than just a fountain. It’s a symbol of our community and a source of pride for our residents. So we are going to rebuild the Lake Eola Fountain better than before.
I began by comparing our downtown story to that of a movie. The great movies, the epics, kind of follow a certain formula. In the first act everyone is happy and successful. The future is boundless. In the second act everything goes wrong. Confidence is shaken. And, the characters are put to the test. Sound familiar? Well, downtown Orlando has been put to the test. You know what? In those great movies, there’s always a comeback! I’ve got a feeling that the story of downtown Orlando has a great ending, too. I can’t wait to see it!