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State of the City 2017

Mayor’s Remarks
State of the City

July 21, 2017

This is the fifteenth time I’ve had the opportunity to update our residents on the state of our City.

During that time much of our shared mission has been putting the pieces in place to build a modern City with a thriving economy:

  • The revitalization and transformation of our Downtown.
  • Our Venues and our evolution into a premier sports and entertainment destination.
  • The Medical City at Lake Nona.
  • Downtown’s Creative Village anchored by the UCF-Valencia Campus.
  • SunRail and expanding transit.
  • Investing in police and fire to keep our neighborhoods safe.
  • Reshaping and diversifying our economy to grow the companies and careers of the future.
  • And, becoming the most sustainable City in the Southeast United States.

Together, we’ve transformed Orlando from a place that was packed with potential… into a City that is realizing its potential.

Most of the attention over these last years has been on these tangible projects and actions. Things that we can see and touch – and quantify in dollars and cents. But, the past year has been very different.

During the most challenging year in our City’s history, the intangible has defined Orlando. The intangible helped us endure. The intangible showed why Orlando is such a special place.

Thirteen months ago our beloved City became the site of the worst mass shooting in American history. A hateful act took the lives of 49 beautiful souls… and shattered countless others. But, Pulse also put Orlando to the ultimate test. Think about it. We’ve spent years talking about the power of partnerships and the importance of diversity and inclusion.

Our response to Pulse showed the world this isn’t just lip service. We showed the world what it truly means to love, respect and accept your neighbor — and why partnership matters so much. We showed the world that even though we have our differences… when it really matters… we are in this together. And, we showed the world what I know to be true — that the best of America lives here.

The shorthand for this intangible bond that we share is Orlando United. It’s not just a slogan. We live it, we breathe it… every single day. Knowing this fact… truly knowing it… only makes us stronger. Knowing this fact is why we can say that even in this national climate that is so divided… Orlando is different. Knowing this allows us to say with pride and confidence that the state of our City is united and unbreakable!

Orlando’s Inflection Point

As we examine the state of our City here in July of 2017, our community finds itself at an inflection point.

For most of Orlando’s history we’ve been the place everyone wants to visit. Today, Orlando is also the place where everyone wants to live and do business. List after list has Orlando as one of the fastest growing cities in America. We’re transitioning from our role as the young upstart… to being a more mature, global City. This transition will impact every single one of us. Incredible opportunities lie ahead.

But, so do big challenges:

  • Making sure everyone benefits from our growth.
  • Making it easier to get from one place to another and less reliant on cars.
  • Being able to create the careers of the future to help extend opportunity to everyone, including our young people.
  • Keeping our community safe.
  • Meeting the need for more quality housing.
  • And, enhancing amenities for everyone from youth to seniors.

It’s worth pointing out that having these challenges is actually a good thing. Plenty of cities wish they had these challenges. They’re a result of the success we’ve built together and a sign we’re headed in the right direction. While many of these challenges aren’t unique to Orlando, what is unique is how we’re addressing them. We’ve seen what it means to be Orlando United. Being Orlando United will be our advantage as we work together to address these challenges and shape our future.

Smart Planning & Growth

The first big step in preparing for the growth of our City… is actually thousands upon thousands of small steps. We’re talking about City Planning, one of the vital jobs of local government.

From visioning exercise to land use studies….to development codes…to comprehensive neighborhood planning…to acronyms like ARB, GMP, and BZA… Man, this stuff is complicated – and I have an engineering degree and a law degree!

But, here’s what all of us need to understand. This complex, tedious, behind-the-scenes work doesn’t get big headlines. But, City planning is the foundation of our strong neighborhoods, our healthy economy and our quality of life. It often takes years or decades to see this work fulfilled.

A great example is Baldwin Park. Mayor Glenda Hood was criticized for the plan to turn our former naval base into an urban neighborhood. But now, she deserves much credit. Nearly 20 years later Baldwin Park is a walkable, livable neighborhood with a thriving town center that’s one of the most desirable places to live in all of Florida.

Across our City, our planners are working to replicate the same formula that’s made Baldwin Park such a success. With Commissioner Sheehan’s leadership… we’re using this same smart growth strategy for the SODO Main Street district.

Together with Metroplan and FDOT, we’re redesigning South Orange Avenue to be a walkable destination with wider sidewalks, landscaping improvements and enhanced lighting.

This same activity is happening to the west, where hundreds of residents have joined with us to plan how we transform Mercy Drive from Colonial to Princeton from blighted and crime-challenged… to a center of community, a home for small businesses and a district that creates jobs.

Everywhere in our City, we’re planning smarter – growing up and not growing out. That means adding trees. It means working with our residents to install art features. It means street-scaping and traffic calming.

Some of these might seem small, but they make a large impact and create an authentic sense of place.

The result is strong neighborhoods that are great places to live with increasing property values.


Our planning work also extends to our entire transportation network.

If you remember one thing about transportation, remember this… every single person in Central Florida benefits from a more robust transportation system.

To make it easier to get to and from work… to improve health and wellness… to compete in a global economy… we must be relentless in our work to build a modern, people-focused transit system.

And, we must do the hard work today to give people new and better ways to get from one place to another without being entirely dependent on a car.

This mission is so important that a year ago we activated a new Transportation department within our City government.

Our team is hard at work transforming our streets, which for decades have been car-only arteries, into what are known as “complete streets” that enable safe access for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

We’re working with our state and regional partners to advance the I-4 Ultimate project.

Beyond adding more lanes and reducing congestion, the I-4 project is paving the way for other important transit developments.

A pedestrian bridge is taking shape that will take walkers and bikers safely over Colonial Drive in Downtown Orlando. That bridge will also serve as a key piece of a network of “urban trails” that extend Gertrude’s walk and will one day be a part of a pedestrian trail connecting Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties. That’s exciting news for our cycling community, whose members have helped us add 40 bike racks and grow our bike-share program to more than ten-thousand people.

We’re working to make it easier to connect to our airport. Through Commissioner Ortiz’s leadership, we’re transforming Semoran Boulevard into a gateway business district and studying how to infuse a mix of transit options that will take people from Orlando International Airport all the way to Altamonte Springs.

With our regional partners, we’re extending SunRail south into Osceola County, adding 17 miles and four new stations. That means new ways for our neighbors to commute across the region and to access Orlando International Airport. That’s why we‘re working with our partners at SunRail, Lynx and GOAA on a non-stop shuttle that takes train riders from Sandlake Road to OIA in less than 15 minutes – called “Train-To-The-Plane.”

Let’s say you work Downtown and you’ve got a business trip. You take a 12-minute SunRail ride from Church to Sand Lake Road. New signage guides you to a non-stop shuttle that’s timed with the train’s arrival. That means you’re at the airport terminal in under 30 minutes… without having to look for, or pay for parking. There’s no better place to see the importance of a world-class transit system, than our airport.

Did you know that OIA now serves twice as many people as it was originally designed for? That’s why the airport’s new south terminal set to open in 2020 is such a big deal.

The project includes a new state of the art baggage handling system and other improvements that will make OIA one of the most advanced airports in the world. The new terminal means more flights from more places around the globe and strengthens our already world-leading tourism industry.

Our Economy & The Careers Of Tomorrow

We all know the foundation of our region’s economy is our hospitality industry.

In Commissioner Ings’ district, Universal Orlando Resort continues to be our city’s largest employer with 23-thousand employees – and it’s still growing strong.

Universal just opened a third theme park, Volcano Bay – complete with 1,700 new jobs – and it has a new 600-room hotel on the way.

Yet, as we’ve said together so many times, Orlando can’t just be a tourism town. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to grow and diversify our economy beyond tourism in new and different ways.

Traditional “economic development” means trying to attract large companies because they create a ton of jobs all at once. As Commissioner Gray likes to call it… “Whale hunting.” That model is important – because we love our whales.

That’s why we’re welcoming KPMG’s new 55-acre Lake Nona training headquarters, a facility that will create close to a hundred jobs and bring 48-thousand of their employees to Orlando every year.

But, we can’t just be whale hunters. Continuing the analogy… we must create conditions for small fish to be born here and then have the right ecosystem to grow into bigger fish that can eventually become giant fish. To do this, we’re flipping that traditional economic development equation on its head as we grow our tech industry.

Start-ups and tech companies attract young workers and create jobs that didn’t exist a few years ago. They’re laboratories of ideas that are changing the world. And, we’ve seen that established companies are drawn to communities that invest in tech.

A culture of innovation is also one that breeds companies that are not exclusively profit driven… but driven by doing good as well.

The new social enterprise accelerator at Rollins College will further cultivate these companies.

All of this is why we’re invested in the Firespring fund to help promising tech companies grow here and stay here. And, it’s why we created the Orlando Tech Association to create a unified voice for our innovation economy and funded CANVS’s new Parramore location.

We are seeing the results of this shared work as the number of tech jobs have increased 150-percent in just the last year!

Our commitment to home-grown companies is also why we’ve spent the last ten years investing in our neighborhood and small business districts.

We now have 10 Main Street districts that are responsible for 3,000 full time jobs, 2,500 part time jobs, and 1,000 thousand new businesses.

Building on the success of Main Streets, we want to make it even easier for our small businesses to succeed. To do that, we’re launching “Permitting Express.” This will be a dedicated City team that will fast track qualified small business projects. The goal is to get that great restaurant or great start-up out of the idea phase and up and running as quickly as possible.

Our vision to do economic development differently means finding ways for anyone who wants to work to have a job.

We’ve just wrapped up year one of a pilot program with Goodwill that helps homeless individuals learn a specific skillset to work in our Public Works Department.

Today, 25 of these people have completed temporary placement, with a pathway into permanent employment with the City of Orlando.

Doing economic development differently means opportunity for all our young people, from the cradle to career.

Most cities probably don’t consider their youth programming economic development. But, we do.

Our Families, Parks and Recreation department now serves 11,000 kids across 17 community centers, 8 middle schools and 5 high schools.

Our programs have helped improve test scores and reduce juvenile crime.

For the third year in a row, every single graduate of the Parramore Kidz Zone has gone on to college.

Our Operation AmeriCorps teams were responsible for helping 900 students graduate high school and earn more than a million dollars in college scholarships.

In the fall, our After School All Stars’ Opportunity Jobs Academy will start its fourth class, connecting high school students with mentors and giving them real world skills to help them secure and then succeed in their first job.

The City of Orlando also directly employs 900 young people in jobs ranging from summer camp counselors, to lifeguards to coaches.

With the help of Commissioner Hill, 100 young people from District 5 are part of our Summer Youth Employment Program where they’re matched with employers to do everything from learning how to manage a hotel, to building video games with UCF staff, to learning what it takes to be a firefighter, to working in the office of a United States Senator.

Even our summer camps aren’t just places for kids to play.

We hired 34 teachers and deployed them to our community centers to teach math, science, technology and the arts all summer long.

They’re helping to close the “learning gap” that often occurs among disadvantaged students.

We’re building on our commitment to enrich the lives of young people through City services by extending the hours of our community centers to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays at the Engelwood, Northwest, Smith and Jackson centers.

By giving our young people safe places to go when they’re not in school… we help them do better academically and help prevent them from making bad choices.

Keeping Orlando Safe

There’s one person, in particular, who understood just how impactful working with young people is — Orlando Police Lieutenant Debra Clayton.

In January, Debra Clayton gave her life keeping our community safe. Her family and friends will tell you she loved being a police officer.

The part of the job she loved most was her work with students.

Our community can never repay her for the ultimate sacrifice she made. But, we can honor her legacy by continuing the work she loved.

Her husband Seth and son Johnny are here with us today. And, so are some of the students she mentored.

Instead of a moment of silence… we’d like them to lead us in a moment of celebration of her life.

Please join us as we loudly and proudly to say thank you to Lieutenant Clayton for everything she did to make Orlando a better place.

Looking at these students, we can be confident that Lieutenant Clayton’s legacy will live on in our work with young people. And, it lives in our unwavering commitment to keep Orlando safe.

Though our City is changing, one thing that will never change is our most important job: keeping you safe.

That’s why we continue to add police officers. This year we funded 15 police officers and in the year ahead we’re adding 15 more to meet the needs of the rapidly growing southeast part of our City.

Our new OPD headquarters had to be more than just a state-of-the-art home for our police department. It had to be a reflection of our work to build better relationships between residents and officers.

To keep our officers safe and show transparency and accountability to our residents, we’re equipping every patrol officer with a body camera.

That’s why we’re working to secure grant funding for 15 Downtown bike officers to help keep our urban core safe as we host more events and prepare to welcome 7-thousand students when the UCF-Valencia campus opens in 2019.

Our police force is relentless in fighting crime… as well as working to stop new crime trends.

Residential burglaries are down nearly 14-percent.

Violent Crime is down almost 18-percent, continuing its downward trend.

And, robberies of our businesses are down 76-percent, a result of the work of our specialized units to remove illegal guns from our community.

Debra Clayton’s murder, the death of Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Lewis and Pulse are vivid reminders of the risks our first responders take every day.

As the traditional roles of police officers and firefighters evolve, we must make sure those who keep us safe are equipped to respond to any level of emergency.

To do this, we’ve expanded OPD’s state-of-the-art training facility to include a simulator that allows officers to realistically practice many of the experiences they might encounter while on patrol.

This training is one of the reasons our use of force continues to decline.

We’re also providing our firefighters with ballistic vests and the highest level of training available to respond to mass casualty events.

We’re adding 12 firefighter positions to place a new tower truck in service in the Lake Nona area.

In Rosemont, we’re building a new, modern and permanent fire station with Commissioner Stuart’s leadership.

And, we’re planning for two more new replacements stations over the next five years.

We’re supporting OFD as they work to engage residents to be first-line responders themselves… with the goal of training every one of our residents in hands-only CPR.

After only a few years, they have trained 80-thousand residents.

OFD does so much in our community, from conducting teen fire academies…to visiting terminally ill kids… to the hundreds of fire safety presentations they do with our businesses.

We often say OFD is the best fire department in America.

That’s not just a proud mayor bragging about his fire department.

OFD has attained a series of accreditations that, literally, put it among the elite of the elite.

That means everyone who calls our City home can go to sleep at night knowing their fire protection and emergency response is the best in America.


Another big challenge that confronts us is housing.

Experts say housing will be the defining issue of the next decade for America’s cities.

We must ensure that anyone who wants to live in Orlando can live in Orlando — regardless of their income.

That’s why we’re making significant investments in developing and rehabbing quality, affordable housing units.

We purchased 36 acres of blighted land on Mercy Drive and Orange Center Boulevard and partnered with non-profits like LIFT Orlando and Ability Housing to add more desperately-needed affordable housing.

We’ve rehabbed 30 units at Richard Allen Gardens and together with Bishop Wiggins and our partners at the HOPE Church, the New Horizon project will house homeless veterans who have children and low income individuals.

And, New Horizon features green design elements to help lower utility costs for residents.

These projects, along with Parramore Oaks and Amelia Court at Creative Village, mean more than 600 affordable housing units planned for our city.

Increasing the stock of single-family units is also important.

That’s why we are investing 5-million dollars to turn vacant lots into new homes so more than 30 families can own a home in Parramore

Growing our affordable housing landscape is a challenge that comes with big questions. How do we encourage more private sector development? What are the appropriate land uses and zoning? Answering these questions requires a regional approach.

That’s why we’re working closely with the Regional Affordable Housing Initiative being led by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. It’s why we’re working with Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties on a regional strategy to increase affordable housing to meet the needs of our growing community.

And we can’t talk about affordable housing without talking about our efforts to end homelessness. Homelessness has been a challenge for our community for a long time.

In 2014, we made a pledge to move 300 chronically homeless individuals and veterans into permanent, supportive housing by 2017. We’ve exceeded that goal.

We’ve placed 385 chronically homeless individuals into permanent housing. 232 of those individuals are veterans. And, across our region, we’ve placed more than 13-hundred people into permanent housing.

What’s even more encouraging than the numbers themselves is that our housing-first model is working.

Quality Of Life

One of the big reasons people are moving to Orlando is our unmatched quality of life.

We were just named the number one City in America for recreation by Wallet Hub.

This doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. It’s why we’re renovating Gilbert McQueen Park and building two new parks in southeast Orlando – Laureate Park and East Airfield Park. It’s why we’re improving playgrounds in Malibu Groves Park, the Northwest Community Center and Willows Park. It’s why we’ve created new kinds of public spaces like dog parks at Lake Druid, Constitution Green and Park of the Americas and added a mountain bike park.

Our commitment to quality of life is why we’ve focused so much attention on making our City a home for arts and culture that features public art, new galleries opening every year, Loch Haven Park, the establishment of a poet laureate and of course our Doctor Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Who else is excited to see phase two of the Doctor Phillips Center under way?

Our quality of life is also why making Orlando America’s premier sports and entertainment destination is so important.

In the last year, our community hosted:

  • The NFL’s Pro Bowl.
  • Wrestlemania
  • The ACC Championship Game
  • Three college bowl games, the kickoff Classic and the Florida Classic
  • More major concerts than I can possibly list
  • Magic Games
  • Orlando City, Orlando Pride and other world-class soccer matches
  • Solar Bear games
  • NCAA tournament basketball
  • More than 100 events at the USTA’s new home in Lake Nona
  • High school sports

And on… and on.

These events pump hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy. They fill our restaurants and hotels. And, just as important, they showcase Orlando to the world.

That kind of exposure brings attention and investment and helps fuel our evolution into the global City of the future!

Being A Smart & Sustainable City

Being a City of the future means being a place where innovation and sustainability drive our quality of life.

This is why we made the historic pledge to achieve 100-percent renewable energy for all City operations by 2030 and 100-percent renewable energy citywide by 2050. It’s why we’ve grown our residential recycling program year after year.

In 2016 we recycled 24-thousand tons, that’s equal to 300 space shuttles.

Our Commercial food waste program diverted 2 million pounds of food from landfills.

It’s why our City fleet added 2-thousand advanced-fuel vehicles with the goal of powering our entire fleet with renewable energy by 2030.

It’s why Lynx opened the largest compressed natural gas facility in the southeast.

The station has distributed nearly 2-million gallons of CNG to buses and fleets across Central Florida, that’s the equivalent of taking 4-thousand cars off the road.

We also continue to work hand-in-hand with OUC to be a greener City.

This year OUC will add 30 megawatts of solar power – that’s enough to power nearly 5-thousand homes.

Cities that embrace innovation are increasingly relying on smart sensor technology.

We’re using these tiny electronic devices to measure, track and reduce the cost of everything from our energy and water use to the way we repair roads and manage traffic.

With our focus on regionalism, we’re proud of our partners in Osceola County for building BRIDG in NeoCity, the world’s first industry-led smart sensor and research hub that will bring 4-thousand jobs to our backyard.

Our unique fusion of innovation and sustainability is one of the reasons why we were selected as one of ten cities to test self-driving cars by the U-S Department of Transportation.

When we talk about opportunity, this is as big as it gets.

From NASA… to our academic institutions like UCF, Valencia and Florida Polytechnic Institute, we’re going to leverage the power of partnership like never before to become America’s home for autonomous vehicle technology.

Over the next several years, our region is going to work together to pilot and help commercialize the autonomous vehicle technology that will, literally, change this world.

Thank You’s and Recognitions

When we think about it, being a pioneer for self-driving cars is the kind of opportunity that 14 years of building partnerships has created for us. It’s the kind of opportunity that can only happen when we ignore jurisdictional and political differences and work together. It’s the kind of opportunity that the Orlando of 2017 was made for.

There are so many partners in this room and across our region that we need to thank.

Please, bear with me as we recognize a few.

Our Orlando City Commissioners, who work tirelessly on behalf of our residents. No mayor in America has better partners.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Orange County Commissioners.

Our partners from Osceola and Seminole Counties and representatives from the Florida Legislature.

Our partners at the UCF and Valencia.

In these types of events we always want to recognize our City employees, our “City Family” as we call it. After the last 13 months, words in a speech don’t come close to conveying our gratitude and appreciation. When an unimaginable tragedy struck, every one of you stepped up to do what needed to be done.

One of our City family members was kind enough to pay me a compliment recently that Orlando was lucky to have me as Mayor. That’s a wonderful thing to hear and humbling beyond measure. But, the truth is that our City is lucky to have you. And, I’m the one who is lucky because I get to work with the best City employees in America.

Please, let us properly say thank you for all you do for our residents.


Two words. Orlando… United.

We began today by talking about how much those two, simple words have meant to us over the past year. We want to close by talking about what they mean for our future.

“United” means many parts coming together to form a whole that is stronger than the sum of the individual parts.

If we are to overcome the challenges that confront us, then each of us has a responsibility to do our part to make the whole stronger.

Every day, everywhere in our City there are opportunities big and small for all of us to do this:

  • Joining your neighborhood association.
  • Volunteering to be a mentor.
  • Participating on a City Board.
  • Riding your bike to work.
  • Picking up litter and recycling as part of Keep Orlando Beautiful.
  • Volunteering at our community centers or with our seniors.
  • Coaching youth sports.

The list of ways we can each make a difference is as diverse as the spectrum of faces that make up our City Beautiful.

Orlando… United. Two words… born out of tragedy… but because of you, they have become the embodiment of what makes our community special and how we’re going to own the future!

Thank you, again, for taking time out of your busy schedules to honor me with your participation today.

I have the best job in the world, in the best City in the world.

And, it would not be possible without each of you.

Thank you.

God bless America.

And, God bless the City of Orlando.