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State of the City 2014

[Lars Houmann, President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida Hospital, introduced Mayor Buddy Dyer.]

Thank you Lars.  It’s a privilege to share this day with you and all of our incredible partners.  

As we gather at this Sunrail stop, I am reminded of the classic American children’s book:  “The Little Engine That Could.” It’s the story of a tiny locomotive that must pull a massive train over a steep mountain.

It’s a seemingly impossible job.  Against great odds, the little train refuses to give up. Through sheer determination, the train achieves the impossible.

In 1999, Central Florida lost out on its first chance for rail transit, watching its federal funding go to other cities. After such a crushing loss, many thought rail transit in Orlando was an impossible goal.

A few years later, our community had an important conversation about the type of city we wanted to be. We agreed that to be a dynamic 21st century city, we needed a modern public transit system. The question was:  could we do what seemed impossible and resurrect our dream for rail?

In one voice our community said, “We know we can!”

We got behind a new project called SunRail, a commuter rail line that would boost our economy and give us desperately-needed transit options. But, just as we were about to move forward, SunRail enabling legislation failed in Tallahassee.

Some people wanted to walk away. But, our business community, residents and civic partners wouldn’t let that happen. The next year, we brought SunRail back to the legislature.

And, it failed again.

Still, we refused to quit. We believed that SunRail was simply too important –  too important to our economic prosperity;  too important to our transportation future.  And, too important to our vision for Orlando as a place where our children want to raise their own families and have the careers of tomorrow.

Our community rallied together in historic fashion, declaring, “We know we can.” And, today SunRail is a reality!

When SunRail begins operating in a few days, it won’t be the end of this story. Rather, it’s the beginning of a whole new era of transit for Central Florida. Already, we are creating jobs, spurring development and laying the foundation for enhanced public transit across our region. Florida Hospital re-engineered its entire campus to build upon SunRail

Around the City’s SunRail stations there’s 1.3 billion dollars in planned development. Later today, SunRail riders will have another way to seamlessly connect with destinations throughout our downtown when Lynx launches its new Grapefruit Lymmo line.

Looking at our Orlando City Commissioners … looking at the members of our commuter rail commission … looking at all of our government partners from across Central Florida, the state and federal government, along with representatives from the civic and business community… I’m reminded of a time when each of us could have thrown in the towel.

Instead, we took it upon ourselves to convince others that SunRail was worth fighting for. Because of that vision and determination, the conversation about SunRail has changed. We’re no longer talking about whether or not we need SunRail, but rather what we can do to enhance the system, increase service and create more transit options.

Already, we’ve got car share, electric vehicle infrastructure and bike sharing is on the way.

We’re working to complete the next phase of SunRail. We’re also connecting All Aboard Florida, an inter-city rail system, to the Orlando International Airport. This will allow residents to easily connect with South Florida through the airport and SunRail.  Together with a new south terminal at OIA this is creating the first true multi-modal system in Florida.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in saying thank you to all those who fought to make SunRail a reality!

As we gather at this station that will soon hum with activity, it’s clear that SunRail is our very own “little engine that could.” But, it also occurs to me that the story of SunRail means so much more. SunRail’s story is, in many ways, the story of Orlando.

The extraordinary perseverance and partnership that made SunRail possible is the same special formula that has powered so many of the major accomplishments that have transformed Orlando. It’s the formula that allowed us to build world-class venues, turn a cow pasture into a medical city and revitalize Downtown.

So much of what we’ve achieved and so much of what the future holds for us  is because of this formula and our ability to declare, often in the face of skepticism:  “We Know We Can!”

So, today, with those words in mind we are going to report on the state of our City.  And, we’re going to celebrate the determination and partnership that fuels our City and continues to make Orlando a city on the rise!

Orlando’s Economic Vitality

We all recognize that our world-renowned tourism industry is the foundation of our economy. But, I bet you didn’t know that we just passed the 59 million visitor mark or that one in three jobs in our community are tied to tourism. This is a credit to our tourism partners, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and the City’s largest employer, Universal Orlando, who is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into our City.

Those tourism partners realize that to grow our economy, we have to build upon tourism.

More than a decade ago, our community rallied around the idea of creating a medical school for UCF at Lake Nona. We believed the school could serve as the first building block of a medical and life sciences campus that would diversify our economy beyond that foundation of tourism.

If you remember, some people laughed at the idea. They didn’t think this community could handle a project of this magnitude.

We said:  We know we can. Today, Medical City is creating careers and prosperity for our residents. The unique environment for collaboration and innovation we’ve created has set the stage for discoveries that may change the world. Medical City is being called the fastest growing cluster for innovation in North America. Some of the largest and most influential companies on the planet like Cisco and Johnson and Johnson are investing in the Medical City because they believe in this collaborative hotbed.

As we continue to build a more robust economy, we’re using the same formula that made Medical City possible to grow Orlando’s small businesses. Our Main Streets–Ivanhoe Village, College Park, Audubon Park, Church Street, Downtown South, Mills 50, Semoran and Thornton Park–are garnering national attention from USA Today and Forbes. They are recognizing the unique mix of restaurants, shops and nightlife these districts offer both residents and visitors.

Over the last five years, Orlando’s main street districts have generated more than 3-thousand jobs and 500 million dollars in economic impact. Just as important as enhancing commerce, they’ve helped create a stronger sense of place. No longer just lines on a map… these main street districts are, diverse “communities within our community.”

Orlando was recently named one of America’s most promising tech hubs. That’s why we are expanding our Orlando Main Street program by adding the first district that can’t be found on a map — a Digital Main Street — the Orlando Tech Association. Our goal is to foster a community that is attractive to tech companies and allows entrepreneurs to put their mark on this community.

That’s why private sector entrepreneurs are investing their own dollars to make it easier for other startups to do business in Orlando. An example is the once-empty Church Street Exchange where “CANVS,” a collaborative working space that offers aspiring start-ups business mentorship, will soon open. This will rival similar programs in Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.  As a government and a community, we owe it to these entrepreneurs to nurture their passion for our city and their vision for our future.

After a decade of work our Downtown is the region’s most powerful economic engine and social hub. Construction cranes have returned to downtown.

There are 26 projects underway or on the horizon that represent a two-and-a-half-billion-dollar investment in downtown and will add more than 2,000 residential units, 400 hotel rooms and a conference center. This year we’ll install “smart meters” that allow for debit and credit cards as well as the use of mobile apps that direct drivers to open parking spaces.

We can’t talk about downtown without talking about our venues. There was a time when people questioned what type of impact the Amway Center would bring outside of Magic Games. Those criticisms might have been hard to hear over the roar of crowds and the ring of cash registers a few weeks back as we hosted those NCAA tournament games!

Think about it; that was a single venue during one electric national-event weekend. Imagine what a whole sports and entertainment district will do!

That future is literally under construction a few blocks away at the soon to be opened Doctor Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. West into Parramore, we can see a new Citrus Bowl, and blocks from here the site of a new stadium that Orlando’s second major league sports team, the Orlando City Lions, will call home. Just across the street, we can envision the new Magic entertainment complex.

With these venues set to open, we are going to be able to host more games and events that will uplift our economy. We will start feeling that excitement again later this month as the Solar Bears make a playoff run!

Next week, we’ll be announcing two new major events that are headed to our venues. The success we’re creating downtown isn’t just a destination, it’s a direction. Just like we did when I first took office, we’re tapping into the power of a diverse group of residents and business leaders to make sure that Downtown Orlando offers something for everyone.

Work is already underway in our historically African-American neighborhood, Parramore. Through a Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan we are working with Parramore residents to ensure that a better Downtown means a better future for them.

These recommendations will be incorporated into “Project D-T-O.” This diverse group of more than 100 people will give everyone the opportunity to leave their fingerprints on the future of our downtown.

Their first recommendation was to use hash-tag O-YES and these cards for people to tell us what they like about Downtown. And I’m sure all of you have already said O-YES to standing during the course of this speech.  So, I want to say O-YES to all of you who came out for the State of the City.

Quality of Life

A decade ago, we said that to foster that 21st century economy, Orlando must be a place where quality of life is second to none. We asked: could we have a diverse array of amenities to enhance the lives of our residents?

Our City said:  We know we can

In the last 11 years we have built 20 new parks and renovated 22 more. In the year ahead, we will open three more parks, including a bike park and our first dog park. We are adding 22 miles of new sidewalks this year, courtesy of a federal grant.

We’re better engaging residents with new technology, including a more user-friendly City website, enhanced social media channels, the I-Lead program, an expanded neighborhood summit and our popular Mayor’s City Academy.

We continue to clean our streets more often and fill our potholes faster than any major Florida city.

Fourteen art galleries have opened since 2003 and just this year we launched our biggest public art project ever, adding iconic sculptures all over downtown through See Art Orlando.  In the Semoran Boulevard corridor, we are working to enhance the aesthetics, improve traffic flow and grow businesses on of one of the main gateways to our City.

And, through our green initiatives and partnerships with OUC we save taxpayers close to a million dollars a year and that number will triple in 2016.

Quality of life also means embracing diversity and inclusiveness. I am proud of our multi-cultural community and that we attract people from across the country and globe who want to seek opportunity and call Orlando home.

The fabric of our city is a mix of ethnicities, cultures and religions. Diversity is our greatest strength. A vibrant, welcoming community attracts the kind of industries and talent our city needs. That’s why we were one of the first cities in Florida to adopt a domestic partnership registry with more than 1200 couples registered. One day I hope we are the city that hosts the state’s first same-sex wedding.

More than anything, superior quality of life means protecting our most important assets; our people.

With public safety as our top priority, we have more police officers and firefighters per thousand residents than any major city in Florida. Juvenile crime is down thanks to youth engagement in programs like Orlando CARES, Parramore Kidz Zone and After School All Stars.

And even though we’ve experienced a 10 percent drop in residential burglaries this year, when it comes to fighting crime, we can’t rest on our accomplishments. That’s why, under the leadership of our new chief John Mina, OPD has built a task force to combat property crime.

It’s made up of officers who have shown an affinity for preventing and solving burglaries. Our residents are our greatest tool in preventing burglaries, we already have more than 950 block captains but we must continue to invest in Neighborhood Watch.

Our commitment to safety has also made the Orlando Fire Department one of the top departments in the entire country. This translates into real world benefits like the fact that you are more likely to survive a heart attack in Orlando than just about anywhere else because of our ability to respond to that type of emergency.

This protection is only getting stronger. Through a new grant, we will be able to train 20-thousand people per year in hands-only CPR as we work toward our goal of training every resident.

The Challenges Ahead

These accomplishments have been made possible through a unique brand of collaboration and determination. Despite these achievements, it’s important to remember that many challenges remain. To overcome them, we must rely on that same formula that has served our community well.

We want to talk about two challenges, in particular.

The first is our City’s budget.

We’ve talked repeatedly about the decisions this government made to preserve core services like police and fire protection, while reducing the size of our government to endure the devastating one-two punch of a recession and state-imposed revenue caps. The “basics budgets” we implemented have done what we intended; shrink government and keep money in the pockets of residents and businesses when they needed it most.

In the face of this unprecedented challenge, I’m proud of our City’s strong financial management and some of the best city services in Florida that our residents receive for their average 40-dollar-a-month tax bill.  And I’m proud that we have made prudent financial decisions that have kept our reserve fund filled and our bond ratings high.

These are the signs of financial stability that businesses look for when investing in a community. The reality is that while our City budget is in strong shape today, we have a long-term problem we must address. Even as the economy recovers, state-imposed revenue caps will cripple our ability to keep up with the demands of public safety and other vital city services.

This is a problem playing out in other cities across Florida. Up until now we have achieved remarkable efficiencies without reducing these services or raising property taxes.  But those days are coming to an end. Simply put, any further cuts to this budget would impact the services people need most and our citizen’s demand.  This is what’s known as a “structural imbalance” caused by revenue caps and increasing expenses.

To ensure the financial stability of our City, we must evaluate how to correct this imbalance. We could just kick this problem down the road. But, I believe in my heart that’s not the right answer. That’s just not what we do here in Orlando. We don’t shy away from tough decisions and big challenges.

So, I’m asking you to join me in finding the solutions to this challenge beginning with a series of public workshops. This is going to involve some difficult, but important conversations for our community. We certainly don’t have all the answers right now. But, I know that if we continue to work together with the input of our residents, we can rise to this challenge and continue to be responsible stewards of the public’s money.

The second challenge is homelessness. A decade ago, our entire region made a commitment to ending homelessness.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our long-time partners in downtown-such as the Christian Service Center, Salvation Army, Orlando Union Rescue Mission, and the Coalition for the Homeless- who have fed and cared for our most vulnerable neighbors and provided for their daily needs.

We’ve made great strides in breaking down barriers for the homeless by using nationally recognized models like I-Dignity, which provides critical identification documents for homeless individuals and working to build a Men’s Service Center which will open this year.

But, we must accept that across the board we have not had the kind of success we envisioned.

In the same way we went back to the drawing board to rethink strategy when we experienced setbacks with SunRail… it’s now time to rethink and reorganize the way we approach this challenge. While we remain committed to a regional approach, we must realize that the challenges in each of our Central Florida cities are different.

In the City of Orlando, the “chronically homeless” living on our streets remain our biggest challenge. These are often the homeless individuals you see day after day, particularly in our downtown core. And sadly, among these are men and women who have served our country who now need our help.

Working closely with the reenergized Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, we have studied what other cities have done to take homeless individuals off the streets and into permanent supportive housing. These approaches have one common focus:  they recognize that many of the disabled and chronically homeless individuals will never get off the streets without community intervention and without a path to permanent housing with supportive services.

A City Impact Team in partnership with our service providers, business community, faith leaders, non-profits, the Orlando Housing Authority and the veteran’s administration are looking at how to replicate successful initiatives here.

The question before us is, can we place one third of the chronically homeless individuals into safe housing in the next three years?

This is an ambitious goal, but if we rely on our model of collaboration, I know we can achieve it, together.



We want to close by recognizing the partners who have made SunRail and so many of the accomplishments we’ve talked about today possible. Because of you, we are on the verge of the most exciting year in Orlando’s history.

I’d love to individually recognize everyone who played a part, big or small.  But, if we did that we’d be here so long that we could watch work begin on an east-west rail line! So, instead, let me say thank you our Orlando City Commissioners, our business community, our Civic and faith-based organizations, our non-profit and arts community, our universities and educational institutions, Mayor Jacobs and our partners at Orange County, our regional partners in Osceola and Seminole County who also helped bring us a Major League Soccer franchise, our hard working City employees and the residents who inspire us every single day.

From the first day our residents entrusted me with the job of being Mayor, we’ve focused on the future… and building a better city for our children to call home. In my inaugural speech I said, “I hope the history books would reflect that our administration asked our citizens to imagine a great city and we created just that”

As we look around, we no longer have to imagine.

That great City we envisioned is right here and positioned to get better every day!

And the state of that great city is strong and ready to take on any challenge.

Thank you.

God bless America.

And, God bless the City of Orlando!


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