July 30, 2021

Orlando's mayor: Buddy Dyer

Amy Keller | 4/27/2020

Facing a $24-million budget deficit, Dyer laid off more than 200 city workers and began to work on delivering his campaign promise to revitalize downtown Orlando. Dyer had talked to developer Cameron Kuhn about buying the blighted Jaymont block from Tavistock. Kuhn liked the idea and came up with a plan for a $140-million development that included office towers and a movie theater. To seal the deal, the city offered Kuhn $22 million worth of incentives.

Dyer worried preservationists might stand in the way of Kuhn’s efforts to demolish the Art Deco buildings that had housed a Woolworth’s and a McCrory’s dime store. He let them have their say at a city council meeting that ended with a 5-2 vote to demolish the block but didn’t wait to see whether they’d fight on. Immediately after the vote, demolition equipment that had been positioned at the fire station rolled down Orange Avenue and razed the buildings along the Jaymont block before the sun came up the next morning.

The move angered some, but Dyer makes no apologies. “It didn’t give anybody an opportunity to go into court and get an injunction,” he says, adding that it “gave the business community the message that we would use our political capital to make sure that things got done in downtown.”

As the Jaymont block was redeveloped, Dyer turned to bringing a performing arts center to Orlando. It wasn’t a new idea. Former Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick had planted the seed in the 1980s, and Hood had also tried unsuccessfully to push the project during her 11 years in office. Dyer renewed the push but took a different approach. As he mapped out a plan, “it became clear the Citrus Bowl was a dump, and it needed a renovation and the Orlando Magic needed something done with the (Amway) arena,” Dyer says.

He suggested bundling all three projects into one package to induce cooperation from competing interests: Sports supporters and arts boosters would have to support each other if they wanted their pet projects to succeed.

There were other hurdles to overcome, including opposition from tourism industry leaders who didn’t want to share bed tax dollars with the $1.1-billion sports and entertainment venues. Dyer worked with then-Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty (his predecessor in the state Senate) to broker a deal that would let the county implement a penny bump in the tourist development tax, with a half-cent of the hike going to the arena and half going to tourism marketing to help hoteliers. To foot the rest of the bill, Dyer tapped funding from the city’s Community Development Agency bonds, corporate and philanthropic contributions, state funding and other sources.

Although the 875,000-sq.-ft., city-owned Amway Center opened in 2010 as planned, the 2008 recession slowed the other two projects. By 2011, a shortfall in tourist development tax funding had stalled the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and Crotty’s successor, Teresa Jacobs, lambasted the project in a letter to Dyer that detailed a number of “serious financial and construction-related concerns” uncovered by a county review of the project. That sparked a clash between the two mayors — with each telling the media they didn’t trust the other.

Dyer and Jacobs eventually settled their differences, and the arts center was finished in two phases, the first completed in 2014 and the second scheduled for completion this fall. Renovations of the Citrus Bowl, now known as Camping World Stadium, were scaled back — but Dyer says he’s pleased with the $200 million in upgrades that were finished in 2014, and the stadium is set for another $60 million in upgrades to help the venue compete for the chance to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. “I think we did pretty well for $200 million. It’s an NFL-quality stadium. Everybody else has spent billions on theirs,” Dyer says.

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