Collaboration and Leadership Transforming Downtown through World-Class Cultural and Sporting Amenities
“The innovative cities of the coming age will develop
a creative union of technology, arts and civics.”
—Sir Peter Hall
It could be described as a “cast of thousands,” but we aren’t referring to a dramatic production or the crowds attending the myriad of events held in Central Florida’s reinvigorated urban center. Rather, it is the countless individuals who have focused their passion, their vision and their support, along with their business and political acumen, to bring about an unprecedented concentration of cultural and sports venues to renew and reinvent downtown Orlando.
For any one of these destinations to be rising like a phoenix from the Centroplex is cause for civic celebration. But for a world-class amenity like the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to be opening in less than six months while construction on the new Citrus Bowl is underway and the Orlando City Soccer stadium is soon to be breaking ground, simultaneously, is simply unprecedented.
Especially when one considers that the Amway Center – which not only is home to the Orlando Magic and the Solar Bears, but hosted a variety of other events including this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament games – hasn’t celebrated its fourth birthday! As Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said, “Rather than having ‘incrementalism’ we are having ‘transformationalism,’ with all of these projects going up together.”
Can we fail to mention that all of this is happening at the same time the region’s new mass transit system comes online? Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared in his “State of the City” address, “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!’”
The only thing more extraordinary than these venues all going up at the same time and practically within walking distance of each other, is the public-private partnership that drove their realization, led in a large part by the collaboration of Mayors Dyer and Jacobs.
“Regionalism started to change the culture of Central Florida. It was more than all being part of a greater whole; it was a spirit of cooperation that said, ‘Give a little, share a little and everybody wins,’” Mayor Jacobs explained. “We see that partnership philosophy in our University, in the city and the county coming together, which isn’t always easy. That cooperative spirit is becoming our community’s most valuable asset.”
The All Important “Why?”
One of the most frequently asked questions is: “Why is the city and county investing hundreds of millions of dollars in these structures?” There are several important answers.
Mayor Dyer observed, “Cities in this century, and particularly this decade, are all competing for talented young people who will make our city successful in the future. These individuals can live anywhere; we’re not competing with our neighboring communities, but rather cities like San Diego, San Francisco and Chicago, so having amenities that attract them to the downtown core, which is where they want to live, is crucial.”
When marketing the area, not just as a place to visit, but as a place to live, work and play, the opportunity to see and share the fan experience of a professional sports franchise and enjoy a vibrant arts and cultural center is paramount. It adds substance to the Metro Orlando EDC’s new branding initiative, “You don’t know the half of it,” moving the region beyond the singular typecast of a tourist destination to a competitive metropolitan community.
It’s worth mentioning that iconic and monumental projects, like Sydney’s famous opera house, which often define a region, are frequently met initially with skepticism and criticism. Few realize that many Parisians considered Eiffel’s masterpiece “useless and monstrous,” though today we wouldn’t recognize the skyline of Paris without his majestic Tower.
But let’s not overlook the market value that these venues have for our over 52 million tourists. Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, commented, “The Citrus Bowl currently generates in the neighborhood of $125 million in economic impact, but when the new bowl is completed, that number could easily pass $200 million for the region. It is important to note that this is derived from out-of-town visitors versus stimulating our local base.”
According to the Dr. Phillips Center’s website, “An estimated seven million out-of-state cultural tourists visit Florida’s cultural facilities or attend cultural events as a primary activity, spending an average of $4.5 billion.” For Orlando, being the leading tourist destination in the world, to capture these cultural tourists seems like low hanging fruit.
The Florida Citrus Bowl, the Catalyst
It has been a part of the history of downtown Orlando for over 70 years and is most notably the home of the Capital One Bowl, the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Florida Blue Florida Classic, not to mention a host of other events. However, with stiff competition from other Sunbelt cities, the venue’s potential in the future was uncertain.
“The new Citrus Bowl is an absolute game changer for us. Had the city and county not agreed to move forward in 2012, there is no way we would have been able to save our existing book of business in its current form. The calls were loud and clear from across the country, along with the post season partners which we have, that the stadium had become untenable at the level that we play, which is at the highest level of the post season. Their actions saved the premier business of the stadium,” Hogan commented.
It may also have been a game changer for the other downtown projects as well. One of the key issues was directing tourism development revenue toward these new venues. The strategy therefore was to bundle all of them together. “There was an attitude on the part of the tourism industry that they would benefit from the Citrus Bowl, but since the Amway Center, the Dr. Phillips Center and eventually the Orlando City Soccer stadium were a part of a package, then there was the factor of give and take,” Mayor Jacobs said. Adding, “Orange County’s share in the expense comes entirely from tourist development dollars, so we don’t have to take a dime from police, fire, parks and recreation or libraries; there was no redirection.”
The $200 million-plus renovation to the stadium includes wider concourses, club seats, modernized restrooms, more space for fans and a people-friendly design, which puts the stadium on par with the newest college and professional football venues. Since most of the major sporting events are televised nationally, it pays huge dividends in promoting Orlando as a destination.
Looking ahead, Hogan sees the upgraded facility allowing them to host a number of new events. “Other major cities like Atlanta and Dallas have collegiate season opener games, staged in neutral locations. Orlando would be perfect for one of these games. Plus, it would come during our worst tourism month; this would be a huge annual win. Also, I think we’ll focus on bringing back NFL preseason games, along with opportunities to partner with Orlando City to host some international soccer events.”
The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
It is one of the most ambitious and defining projects of its kind in the region and in many ways among the elite in the world. The Dr. Phillips Center, positioned in the heart of the city, is a statement not only about the significance and the transformational influence of the arts, but of the power of philanthropy to enhance the quality of life and create destinations that provide a sense of place to the whole community, with offerings to please every cultural palate.
Kathy Ramsberger initially became a part of the Dr. Phillips’ team to help answer the Center’s most foundational questions: “Where should it be? What should it be? And how should it be paid for?” Once those critical directives were defined, she was asked to stay on beyond the initial stage and has become one of the Center’s most respected voices.
Being birthed in one of the most challenging economic periods in our nation’s history was a tremendous obstacle, but one that the organization embraced. “Governance in any organization is key, and our Board has handled the challenges in the economy by focusing on where we want to go and having the conviction to stay the course, while also having the patience to make tough choices without sacrificing where we want to end up. Instead of changing the building or the site, the decision was to phase the project and grow as we can,” Ramsberger said.
Ramsberger made the point that where arts centers have been built in other cities, a thriving infrastructure has followed. The Dr. Phillips Center is no exception; it is located on a nine-acre site downtown and will include two performance theatres, a community theatre, rehearsal rooms, administrative offices, educational programming space and a community facility, along with plans for a hotel and mixed-use sites.
In front of the Center facing west, will be a huge outdoor gathering and performance space called the CNL Arts Plaza, which can host up to 3,000 people. “It’s what we like to call the living room of the city,” commented Dr. Phillips Center Chairman Jim Pugh.
Commenting on the cooperative environment that has been created in the city, Ramsberger said, “The elected leadership provides the confidence for the philanthropic leadership to follow. If you look around the country, often it is political leaders who set the vision, but communities have so many pressing challenges and priorities, whereas philanthropy can make the community rich in terms of quality of life and place making; it is often philanthropy that builds great cities. The collaborative leadership we enjoy invites participation from a diversity of both private and corporate sponsors.”
The Amway Center & More
The Orlando Magic are celebrating their 25th year, but the Amway Center is the age of a toddler, and in terms of design and technology it is state-of-the-art. More than twice the square footage of the old Amway Arena, it boasts an assortment of mid-level luxury suites and club seating.
Being owned and controlled by the City of Orlando, like the Orlando City Soccer stadium and the Florida Citrus Bowl, it is also used for large banquet gatherings, concerts and a host of sporting events. In fact, the Magic play around 40 regular season games at the Center, leaving a lot of open dates for other events.
Alex Martins, the Magic’s CEO observed, “The critical mass of the Amway Center, the Dr. Phillips Center, the Citrus Bowl and now the Orlando City Soccer stadium, to create a sports and entertainment nexus for the revitalization of downtown Orlando and to spur additional downtown economic development, is so apparent. We have studied other similar urban projects in Charlotte, Nashville, Memphis and St. Louis, to name a few, and these venues are always a catalyst to create other development opportunities. In those cities, significant mixed-use development took place almost immediately around those facilities.
“If these venues are programmed appropriately, they will bring tens of thousands of people downtown. They create the volume that these developments thrive on.”
Across from the Amway Center, the Orlando City Council recently approved the sale of property, including the Orlando Police headquarters building for $12.7 million, for a multi-use facility. The Orlando Magic is beginning work to create an entertainment complex that is slated to include 100,000 sq. ft. of office space, 250 hotel rooms with 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 250 residential units, 64,000 sq. ft. of retail space and a parking garage. Martins, also the CEO of SED Development, which is creating the $200 million, 650,000 sq. ft. project, said, “Our approach was to create a destination that thrives around the events held at the Amway Center, but is not solely dependent on them having the right type of programming to attract patrons 365 days a year. That is how we are determining design and development to capitalize on all the downtown venues, but with the patronage to survive on days when they are not in operation.”
Orlando City, the Wave of the Future
Baseball’s championship is called the “World Series” – an interesting name considering, with the exception of the Toronto Blue Jays, only American teams have appeared. Soccer’s World Cup however is unquestionably the most international event in sports. In terms of fans, attendance, and TV viewers, it completely eclipses all others, including the Olympics.
When Phil Rawlins looked for an ideal location to launch a new team that could ramp into Major League Soccer, Orlando was the clear winner. Since that time, Orlando City became the 2011 and 2013 USL Pro Champions and MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who visited Orlando in early 2012, said of the team’s bid to be in the major leagues, “It’s not a matter of if, but when.” One of those determining factors was a “soccer-specific stadium” for the team to play in.
Rawlins explained, “Unlike any other sport, the fans in the stadium have a material impact on the game. The noise, the passion and the songs all are part of the live dynamic. To harness that, you have to put it in the right size stadium. If you put 20,000 excited fans in a 70,000-seat stadium, you’ll drain the enthusiasm right out of the crowd; it goes straight into the ether. On the other hand, when you put them in a 20,000-seat area, with a roof that focuses all that noise, it creates a caldron of excitement.”
Rawlins described what Orlando City could mean to the City of Orlando, “Every other weekend for 10 months there will be a game in downtown Orlando; for the leisure and restaurant industry that is huge. Plus, we are marrying the world’s most popular game with the world’s most visited city! We want to build the best soccer franchise in America, but we also believe we can build a global brand.”
The Power of Partnerships
Several years ago Mayors Dyer and Jacobs went together to Washington, with a small delegation made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, to meet with the President’s budget staff to appeal for funding for SunRail Phase II. Those funds would take the system from Sand Lake to Kissimmee, which would then allow for the crucial connection of SunRail to the airport (MCO) and then All-Aboard Florida.
When they explained the purpose of their visit, the administration asked what the problem was and what they needed. After giving the explanation, the administration asked, “What is the position of the Democratic delegation and the Republican delegation?” The response: “We have the same position; we’re all on the same page.” The budget director said, “You have three Republicans and two Democrats and they are all on the same page?” “Yes,” they answered. The director replied, “We don’t care what the subject is, we want to see this.”
Without orchestration, everyone contributed to the discussion and they got $65 million into the President’s budget, when all they wanted was $1 so that the Senate and Congress could then take it up in their budgetary process.
That is the power of partnerships!