November 15, 2019

Editor's Page

Heavy Lifting

Mark R. Howard | 10/25/2019

In 2012, the city of Orlando decided to spend around $200 million to demolish and rebuild the old Citrus Bowl football stadium (now called Camping World Stadium) just west of downtown. In the process, three men involved in the effort — attorney William Dymond of the Lowndes law firm, Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, and Tom Sittema, then CEO of CNL, now the head of an investment firm — began to look hard at the neighborhood around the stadium.

The picture wasn’t pretty: The West Lakes community was the most distressed neighborhood in the most distressed ZIP code in Orange County — dilapidated housing and commercial buildings, high crime, no employment centers, lousy schools and a population, almost all black, with few prospects. All just a few blocks from a downtown that had begun to explode with investment and activity.

Sittema says he was stunned by the level of blight and despair. “You just had to ask yourself, is that the best our city can do, spend $200 million for a stadium that will get used a few times a year, right in the middle of a neighborhood where the kids have no hope for a bright future, no hope to move into the middle class?” Hogan told him he’d love for the stadium to be a catalyst for revitalizing the neighborhood, “but neither of us had a clue how. We said, ‘let’s figure it out.’”

Figuring it out has meant creating an organization called Lift Orlando and recruiting other business and faith-based leaders, government officials and neighborhood residents.

 

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