October 26, 2020

Orlando's mayor: Buddy Dyer

Amy Keller | 4/27/2020

Other milestones under Dyer’s watch have included the 2014 launch of Sun- Rail, Central Florida’s regional commuter rail system; the establishment of Medical City at Lake Nona; and securing a Major League Soccer team and building a privately funded soccer stadium. The city’s latest landmark was the 2019 opening of a University of Central Florida/ Valencia College downtown campus, which is part of the public-private Creative Village project on 68 acres where the old Amway Arena stood. Electronic Arts is planning to move its headquarters there next year from Maitland, bringing 700 high-wage jobs downtown with the hope of spurring the rise of a new digital media cluster.

Those who know Dyer describe him as a cerebral, deliberate leader — an introvert who understands how to run a big city and relishes challenges. “I don’t think Buddy was cut out to be a day-today lawyer,” says Morgan. “I believe that being the chief executive of a big city, doing big things — he needs it for his own mental stimulation that he never would have found being a lawyer charging by the hour.”

Heather Fagan, a longtime aide and currently Dyer’s chief of staff, says that once Dyer has a vision for something, he sees it through to completion. “He’s taken on very complex projects that often hit road bumps or hurdles or ‘no’s’ and he never stops pursuing what he thinks is right for the community,” she says.

Fagan cites Major League Soccer as an example. The original plan was for the city and Orange County to contribute about $35 million and get another $30 million from the state — but the state funding never materialized. Fagan recalls riding back from Tallahassee in a car with Dyer and Phil Rawlins (who would become Orlando City team president) after the last day of session in 2015, when their request for funding didn’t even make it to the floor. “It was about an hour of silence, but then the mayor turned to Rawlins and said, ‘Ok, well what do we do next?’ ”

Brazilian businessman Flávio Augusto da Silva, majority owner of the team, came up with a plan: He’d fund the stadium privately — in part with money from EB-5 investors who’d get visas in exchange for their investment — and pay the city for the land. Dyer learned of the new business plan over drinks with Rawlins at the Alfond Inn in Winter Park, where the two drafted a “memorandum of agreement” on the back of the bar receipt, which now hangs framed in Dyer’s conference room in City Hall.

There were other snags. The Faith Deliverance Temple sat in the middle of the Parramore neighborhood where the soccer club and the city wanted to build the stadium, and sales negotiations had broken down. The church was asking $35 million for the property — an amount the city viewed as far above its value.

Meanwhile, eminent domain proceedings the city had initiated against the church property were dragging on, angering many in the community. Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, a sometime critic of Dyer, blasted the city’s push to seize the church property. “This is the Buddy Dyer way. Barge ahead. Don’t seek permission first. Apologize later. Or heck, don’t even do that,” Maxwell wrote in a 2014 column.

During a meeting with architects, Dyer suggested moving the stadium a block west. They agreed to move the facility, and the city made one final offer of $5 million to the church. “They turned it down, and that was the best day (Chief Assistant City Attorney) Roy Payne has ever had, calling them back and saying, ‘You get your wish. You get to keep the church,’ ” Dyer recalls.

Weathering storms

While Dyer has dubbed himself the “happiest mayor in America,” his tenure hasn’t been a cakewalk.

Following his 2004 re-election, his Republican opponent, Orlando businessman Ken Mulvaney, accused Dyer of violating Florida election laws by paying campaign aides to collect absentee ballots. That triggered an investigation that culminated in the 2005 indictment of Dyer and three others, including his campaign manager, a get-out-the-vote consultant and Orange County Circuit Judge Alan Apte. Dyer turned himself in and was booked on third-degree felony charges. Then-Gov. Bush suspended him from office.

“It was probably the lowest point in his life. He came to my office and we gave him a key and (access) to the parking garage, and he kind of based himself out of (Morgan & Morgan) for a month or so,” Morgan says, adding the charges against Dyer were “all B.S.”

Tags: Trendsetters, Government/Politics & Law, Feature

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