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State of Downtown 2014

Mayor’s Remarks
State of Downtown

December 3, 2014

Good Afternoon.

It’s a great day to be in the City of Orlando! It’s a great day to be in Downtown Orlando! And… it’s especially a great day to be among so many brilliant minds here at Orlando’s newest home for our community’s creators at the Church Street Exchange!

The transformation of this building into a co-working community is the most recent leap forward in our effort to make Downtown the premier tech hub in the southeastern United States.

This space is 90-percent full with companies including; CANVS, Echo Interaction Group, Splyt, Plan Source, The Iron Yard, Power DMS, Book That Doc, Trend Studios, Be Creative House… And, a company that was just launched today, Echo 42.

But, the Exchange is more than just a collection of cutting edge companies. The story of this building is, in many ways, the story of Downtown Orlando itself. It’s a story of rebounding from tough times… of rebirth and reinvention. Back in the 80’s and 90’s… this was the iconic Church Street Exchange. Millions of residents and visitors came here for dining, shopping and entertainment. At one point, the Church Street District was the fourth leading tourism destination in all of Florida behind only our world-class theme parks.

But, consumer tastes change. Economies have ups and downs. By the beginning of this new century… Downtown Orlando and Church Street had lost its luster. Our center city had become what some described as a “ghost town.”

Around the same time, 11 years ago, this community entrusted me with serving as mayor. One of the first things we talked about was the fact that the great cities of the world have one element in common. They have great downtowns. So, we rallied around the idea that if Orlando was going to reach its potential… then we had to have a great downtown.

To make that happen, we brought together a diverse group of residents, along with business, civic and faith based stakeholders, to form what we called the Downtown Strategic Transition Team and the Parramore Task Force.

These two groups embarked on their missions by asking the members of our community to do something simple. Close their eyes and imagine. Imagine a downtown where people live, work, learn and play together. Imagine world-class amenities for sports, arts and entertainment… places for people to gather and make memories. Imagine a more walk-able downtown with expanded mass transit options. Imagine new places for people to live… and great spaces for people to play. Imagine a safe downtown… a modern downtown… an inclusive downtown that has something for everyone. Imagine a downtown that serves as the economic engine for all of Central Florida and is the destination for the cutting edge industries and quality careers of the future.

What happened next? We did more than just dream. Fueled by the leadership and engagement of every segment of our community, we created a comprehensive plan to bring that vision to life. Then we went to work and we did it!

It took ten years of hard work, but Downtown Orlando is no longer a ghost town. It’s no longer just a weekday employment hub. It is a place where people want to be. Just as this building has been reinvented and reimagined, so to have we reinvented and reimagined Downtown Orlando!

Today, our Downtown is a vibrant and dynamic center city… an economic engine and a cultural destination… with a charm and character all its own.

Last year at this event we recounted all of the specific achievements that made this renaissance possible. We detailed how our Strategic Transition Team turned those ideas into reality.

Once again, we want to thank the members of that team. As much as we appreciate their incredible work, it’s time to turn the page on the last ten years. It’s time to celebrate what’s happening today and to plan for tomorrow.

At this moment, we are in the midst of biggest year in the history of Downtown Orlando. Think about the last year. We opened SunRail, our region’s first commuter rail line and the backbone of a growing mass transit system. We added a new Lymmo route, the Grapefruit Line serving Parramore and Thornton Park. And, we’ll soon open the Lime Line to serve the Creative Village and the Florida A&M Law School. In the last six months, Lymmo ridership has jumped by 33 percent because of Sunrail riders.

We also started the restoration of our historic Amtrak station. And, just today, we installed the first of a thousand “smart” parking meters that will make it easier for people to park. These transit options are changing the way people make their way to and through our Downtown. And, the transit-oriented development generated by these projects has already spurred more than a billion dollars in investment.

Now, a few weeks ago the dream that our arts community held for decades became reality as the Doctor Phillips Center opened its doors, raising the curtain on a new era of arts and culture for Central Florida. Just today, the sign went up announcing our effort to secure a hotel adjacent to the Dr. Phillips Center.

This year, we also installed eight iconic sculptures in Downtown through See Art Orlando.

Between our 20 galleries, See Art Orlando and the Doctor Phillips Center, Downtown is alive with the arts. In any other city, these arts achievements would be enough for a whole speech. This year in Orlando, it’s just the start!

Days ago, we opened the new Orlando Citrus Bowl. Tens of thousands of fans were in the stands for the Florida Blue Florida Classic. Tens of thousands more will be at the Citrus Bowl for our two signature bowl games in a few weeks. Our beloved stadium is already attracting new games. We added a third signature bowl game, the Cure Bowl for 2015. And, we’ll host college football’s newest annual Kickoff Classic beginning in 2016 with a game between Ole Miss and Florida State. Through the new Citrus Bowl, we have planted our flag in the turf and declared that Orlando is, as one Orlando Sentinel columnist recently said, “The College Football Capital of The World!”

Speaking of “football” of another kind, you might have heard we secured a Major League Soccer team! A few weeks ago with an assist from our rabid Orlando City fans we broke ground on our new Soccer Stadium. We’re only months away from cheering on our Orlando City Lions in the Citrus Bowl in their inaugural MLS season — and then seeing them take the field in a new state-of-the-art stadium the following year. That same year we’ll host the NCAA women’s national soccer final four.

Our big year in sports also extends to the ice where our Solar Bears will host the 2015 ECHL All Star Game at the Amway Center… and to the hardwood as we were once again selected as a March Madness site for 2017.

Next year we’ll also welcome the Orlando Predators back to Downtown. All of this is on top of our Orlando Magic whose games at the Amway Center draw people downtown night after night.

This year, the Magic will extend its impact beyond basketball further than ever by spearheading a wave of private investment in Downtown when they start work on our new sports and entertainment district that will include a hotel, conference center, dining and retail options.

All of these achievements have put us in the position to proudly say Orlando can host any event the world can bring us!

Beyond our venues, this has been a year of incredible achievement in other areas as well. Lake Eola Park reached an all time high of 2.5 million visitors. This fall, we had the huge announcement that UCF and Valencia College will move into our Creative Village. This new campus will draw at least 10-thousand students. Combined with Orange County Schools’ commitment to bring a K through 8 public school to Parramore, it further cements Downtown as a destination for lifelong learning. Downtown is also helping to drive our vision for Orlando as the most sustainable city in the southeast.

This year, we brought the total number of LEED-certified buildings Downtown to 14, with five more on the way. In the year ahead, we will begin offering recycling to Downtown buildings.

Over the last year we’ve worked to continue to keep downtown safe, reducing violent crime in our center city by nearly 10 percent. Within the last few weeks, we closed on land to build a new Orlando Police headquarters and will begin site preparation next week. The new OPD headquarters will further enhance downtown safety while spurring development along the Orange Blossom Trail.

While we’re creating a Downtown that is built for fun and built for the future, we are not avoiding our responsibility to help those who need it most. And, that’s why our community, led by Florida Hospital, has committed 11 million dollars to a bold new plan to house the chronically homeless in the next three years.

I talk with my fellow mayors from around the country quite frequently. And, I’ll tell you they’re pretty envious of us right now. There is no City in America that can match the kind of year we’re having.

There’s a buzz you feel when you walk around our Downtown. It’s contagious. That energy doesn’t just come from the projects, ribbon cuttings and big announcements. That energy comes from you, our residents and business owners.

You are choosing to live Downtown, work Downtown and invest Downtown. Almost every day, I hear from residents and business leaders about why they want to be part of Downtown Orlando.

I’ve heard from seniors who are choosing to have what they call an “urban retirement.”

I’ve talked to families who say their new favorite thing to do is watch an outdoor movie in Lake Eola Park.

I’ve heard from residents who’ve given up their cars for more walk-able lifestyles.

I’ve heard from residents and visitors who cannot believe we have amenities that are as good or better than what exists in places like Philadelphia and New York.

And, I’ve talked to young people who, ten years ago might have gone elsewhere, but today are starting their careers in Downtown and choosing to live footsteps away from where they work in new buildings like Nora, Artisan 420, Thornton Park Brownstones and The Sevens.

That youth movement is positioning Downtown as the centerpiece of a region that’s built for the future.

Building a city for the future means a Downtown that’s home to the careers and employers of tomorrow. When I talk to business leaders, I hear why Downtown is important to them.

A great example is Red Lobster, which opened its first corporate office in Downtown Orlando four decades ago… and has now chosen to return to Downtown. In a few weeks, Red Lobster will open its new global headquarters at CNL I, bringing more than 300 employees Downtown. Their new home features a Culinary Development Center, where the company’s team of world-class chefs will create innovative recipes for food that will be served in their more than 700 restaurants around the world. On top of that, the company will bring 1600 employees here every year, many of them managers and future managers who, along with receiving the tools and training for successful careers, will stay in Downtown hotels and eat in our restaurants. They want to offer their employees world-class amenities and an unmatched quality of life.

They’re not alone.

When California tech company June-Yo bought Orlando video game company 360Ed recently, they could have moved the operation back to Silicon Valley. Instead, they were so impressed with Orlando and our City’s focus on tech that they chose to stay and grow the company here in Downtown.

There’s the Florida Institute of Technology that will soon be opening a Women’s Business Center in this building with the mission of helping women enter and succeed in the technology field.

When asked why he moved their 50-person firm here, the President of Moore Stephens Lovelace said, “We wanted to offer our employees immediate access to the arts and enhanced philanthropic opportunities and be part of the new Downtown Orlando experience”

These stories and the people behind them are a big reason why Forbes recently ranked Orlando the number one city in America for job growth, creating careers at a pace nearly double the national average!

Now, I want everyone to pay close attention to what I’m about to say next.

There is no doubt this has been a banner year for so many reasons. But, I don’t just want us to remember this year for the projects we completed or the achievements we made. I want us to remember 2014 for something much, much more important. This was the year we stopped trying to be a world-class city with a world class downtown…  This was the year Orlando became world class!

This incredible year would not be possible without the hard work of those who have become champions and cheerleaders for Downtown, so many of whom are with us today. It’s important that we recognize their efforts. Let us start by thanking our City commissioners for their partnership and leadership. We must thank the Downtown Orlando Partnership for putting this event on every year and the work they do to better Downtown every day. We want to thank the Downtown Development Board. We need to recognize those Downtown leaders that paved the way for us, like Bob Snow, who could appropriately be called the father of Church Street. We also want to thank Downtown’s businesses large and small for their resolve and hard work to strengthen our Downtown and regional economy. We want to say thank you to our partners in the tourism community, our faith based leaders and the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. And, we want to thank and recognize Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the members of the Orange County Commission for their partnership. We want to thank our City employees, particularly those who serve our residents here in Downtown every day.

Finally, we need to recognize the residents of our great city. Being the Mayor of Orlando is the best and most rewarding job in the world. One of my favorite parts is when someone tells me they love the Amway Center, or the Lake Eola Farmer’s Market or they’ve got a story to tell about something wonderful they experienced in one of our Downtown Main Streets.

To our residents… Thank you for your partnership, your passion and your imagination as we’ve worked together to transform our Downtown! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making our city a place where my kids and yours grow, thrive and follow their dreams.

In fact, I’m proud that my son Trey and a friend who are here today are following their dreams by starting a new company named “Get Local.” I know it’s a shameless plug, but it’s a testament to Orlando being a startup hub for young entrepreneurs.

We’ve used that word “imagination” quite a bit today. I think everyone here would agree that closing your eyes and dreaming isn’t something you do just once. You never stop imagining. You never stop creating.

That notion also applies to the future of Downtown Orlando. Our community succeeded in bringing to life the vision we outlined a decade ago. But, as I’m fond of saying, success isn’t a destination… it’s a direction. We can’t stop now. To build on the momentum we’ve created, it’s going to take even more imagination, even more creativity and even more resolve to fight for the future we want for our Downtown.

That’s why we tasked a diverse group of more than 100 residents with charting a path for the evolution of our center city over the next ten years – that includes a comprehensive neighborhood plan for Parramore. We call this effort “Project DTO.”

For the last few months, these individuals have donated their time, talents and passion for Downtown to creating that road map. Our community’s most creative minds helped gather an array of ideas and voices from around Orlando for what has been described as a visioning exercise on steroids.

What do we want Downtown to look like ten years from now? What can we borrow from other downtowns? How can we give Downtown Orlando a strategic advantage over other urban economies? What are the amenities and assets the residents of the future will demand that will make our downtown the envy of other cities? These are the questions we put forth as we asked residents to close their eyes once more while also opening their minds.

The result of this process is a plan created by Orlando residents for Orlando residents. It’s a plan that focuses on “Ten Big Ideas” that will keep Downtown’s momentum going and positions Orlando to be a true City of the future. Just as it sounds, these are big, bold ideas. Some of these ideas are already underway, at least in part. Others are merely concepts and are going to take the continued hard work of this community to make them a reality.

We don’t have all the answers right now. But, we do have an incredible road map, thanks to the members of the Project DTO. Now, I could go on and tell you about these big ideas. But, the wonderful thing about working with creative minds on a project of this magnitude is that they don’t want to just talk about their vision. They want to show you their vision. They want your heart to beat a little faster… just like theirs does… when they imagine what the future of our Downtown Orlando looks like.

So, it’s now my sincere privilege to ask you to turn your attention to the screens as we take a look at Project DTO, and Ten Big Ideas for the future of Downtown Orlando!


*Note:  Mayor returns to stage and gives final goodbye

Wasn’t that incredible? I want to thank the Project DTO team led by Cari Coats, Fred Kittinger, Brooke Myers and Philip Holt.

Thank you, everyone, for attending the State of Downtown event today. We want to remind you that there is a reception here in the building that begins right now. Please stay and enjoy some refreshments and explore the building.

If you don’t have plans yet for the evening, perhaps think about staying Downtown and having dinner at one of our great restaurants.

Thank you!