Magical Gentrification: New DeVos plan to entertainingly reinvent blighted downtown area revealed (but not really)
This morning at City Hall, Orlando Magic chief executive officer Alex Martins greased back his hair (again) to reveal just what has been going on in the heads of the Magic brass – and, specifically, its ownership, Amway God Rich DeVos – with regard to the long ballyhooed Amway Arena-adjacent entertainment complex it’s been studying. Before the dais of commissioners and Mayor Buddy Dyer, Martins charmed and chatted his way through a VERY brief outline of the “how we got here” variety, before unveiling little more than a smirk of intent to move forward with the 18-months-in-the-offing scheme. The plan is to launch a $100 million development that will allegedly do double-time as Magic headquarters (75 percent of the team’s staff still works out of the RDV Complex way up I-4, and that’s terribly inconvenient) and some kind of hotel-retail-restaurant-residential urban-planning potion for the permanently bored. This morning’s meeting was effectively just an attempt to shore up a single deal on the two parcels the city has made available to the Magic over the last two years: the city-owned and operated parking garage and the old police department headquarters. Details, perhaps purposefully, were scant. The Magic – which is in the process of forming the Sports and Entertainment District LLC, with unnamed other developers and investors – has paid $100,000 so far just for the option to build out the project. (We’ve covered this story here, here and here via Council Watch).
Beyond the numerous practical challenges the whole development will face – there needs to be a new OPD headquarters before we can demolish the old one; those struggling businesses on the first floor of the parking garage will need to be relocated; the city makes money off the garage; oh, you mean the Orlando Rescue Mission is on the subject property, too? – we felt ourselves sinking into an existential haze over the whole ordeal. We’ve heard these kinds of vague development promises before – these odd thematic flourishes the city rides upon, like this will be the jockier brother of the still undefined nerdville Creative Village? And, yeah, we get the cluster thing, and that it’s probably easier to “revitalize” in concise pockets. But we’ve also followed this slow, hollow drumbeat toward gentrification – er, Pathways to Parramore – with cocked brows for nearly a decade.
Even as the words dripped off the mayor’s lips that this city block was “key” to realizing his dubious redevelopment campaign platform, our stomach started sinking. Commissioner Daisy Lynum, who represents Parramore, referenced the “anxiety levels” of the garage-floor businesses that both the city and the Magic have subsidized over the past few years in an attempt to keep some of the area’s culture alive (when she wasn’t voicing concern about where she would get her dry cleaning done). Martins assured everyone, somewhat clinically, that he had been in “communication” with those businesses and that he cared about shepherding them through the transition, whatever that means. The Orlando Rescue Mission was also in receipt of “communication” over its land that will inevitably be gobbled up. Nobody even knows exactly how long it would take OPD to shift its headquarters and communications tower a mile to the west. In truth, this sort of sociological surgery would probably be better handled delicately, and not with an aspirational bulldozer, but it appears the latter is what we’re in for.
Martins also talked of “synergies” and repositioning “Parramore as an entertainment destination.” The plans for the development, he said, were coincidentally drafted by the same architect responsible for the Amway Center, because this was always going to happen. Pressed for more details outside council chambers, Martins kept the cloud machine going – there is demand for retail, for (more) residential, for a hotel, for carefree excitement downtown. “Upscale bowling” was just about the only specific that managed to leak out, tragically. So, we’re displacing businesses and homeless people so that rich people can bowl? How very Orlando.
To be fair, there aren’t too many details to go on with this projected monstrosity, and maybe there is some truth to the idea that a “sports complex” – one that would effectively connect the arena to the proposed soccer stadium – could thrive by virtue of concept and conceit. Mayor Dyer made a point of symbolically holding one foot over the brake – “Doing it right is more important than doing it quickly,” he said – so maybe there’s still a chance that things could work out in a decent fashion (the Magic hopes to bring its purchase proposal before city council in June). But pardon our doubts. The city has already been in bed with the Magic too long to not know better, and that civic consummation ended up costing taxpayers half-a-billion dollars. If anyone stands to gain from this deal, it’s the megalomaniacal zealot Rich DeVos. And if anyone stands to lose, it’s the people of Parramore. There’s no Magic in that.