June 1, 2012
Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre
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On February 22nd, 2003, I was sworn in as Mayor of Orlando in a ceremony much the like one we are having today. Nearly a decade later, I am humbled that our residents have seen fit to keep me on the job, working with them every day to make our City the best place anywhere to live, work and raise a family.
I’m also grateful for the confidence that our residents have shown in me, by entrusting this administration with the leadership of our City for another four years. In preparation for today’s event, I dusted off the first speech I ever gave as Mayor. On my first day on the job, I said: “My hope is the history books will reflect that the Dyer Administration asked citizens to imagine a great City and created just that.” Friends, over the last ten years… we have done exactly that.
We dreamed of new ways to make our beloved city even better. We tapped into the power of partnership like never before to make those dreams a reality and in doing so, we wrote a bold new chapter in the history of Orlando, the City Beautiful!
When I look back at that first oath of office and the shared vision we laid out for our community… I am filled with awe at what we have been able to accomplish. On that first day, we said diversifying our economy beyond our tourism base and creating quality, high paying jobs for our residents was a top priority. Those job creation engines are in place in the form of the Medical City at Lake Nona, our main street small business districts, our entrepreneurial incubators, our leading educational institutions and what will, in the years ahead, become Orlando’s Creative Village.
Through these initiatives we have laid the foundation for a 21st century economy and become what national publications call, “One of the most business-friendly cities in America.”
Today, three of our powerhouse industry sectors… Modeling, Simulation and Training… Life Sciences and Biotechnology… and Digital Media contribute an annual economic impact of nearly 15 billion dollars and are responsible for employing 51-thousand residents.
In just the last few years we have been recognized as:
- Entrepreneur Magazine’s Number One City in America for Entrepreneurship
- Inc. Magazine’s Top “Hot Spot” for job creation among companies with 100 employees or less.
- The least expensive City in America to open a business.
- And, America’s number one “Hot Bed for High Tech Growth.”
On that first day, we committed to making sure that everyone in our City had greater access to education and opportunity. So, we worked with businesses to adopt the City’s first living wage ordinance, to make it easier for working men and women to support their families. We established 12 voluntary pre-kindergarten classes in the City. And, we created the Blueprint Program to make sure that Orlando’s residents benefited from our construction projects in the form of jobs, contracts and job training. On that first day, we focused on revitalizing Downtown Orlando.
A decade ago, Downtown was described by many as a blighted “ghost town,” a center City that had lost its identity along with many of its residents and visitors. Through a number of citizen task forces, our community set to work engineering one of the most dramatic turnarounds, of any urban core in America. We doubled our skyline in less than five years. We increased our Downtown tax base by more than 50 percent and saw more than six hundred new businesses open their doors, which are still operating today. We helped shepherd more than 1.7 billion dollars of investment in our Downtown core. We also secured the largest public, private building project in Central Florida history, giving our residents access to world class sports, arts and entertainment, and the corresponding economic impact derived from those activities.
On that first day, we committed to restoring Parramore. Orlando’s historic African American neighborhood had been in decline for decades and had become notorious for crime and drugs.
Nearly seven years after we established Pathways for Parramore, crime in the neighborhood has been reduced dramatically through community policing, bike patrols, IRIS cameras and neighborhood watch groups. We also worked to stabilize the neighborhood by encouraging home ownership through the addition of new and rehabilitated homes… along with the construction of more than 100 new rental housing units.
And, we launched the Parramore Kidz Zone, which helped reduce juvenile arrests in the neighborhood by 80 percent. PKZ also provided young people in the neighborhood with access to tutoring, resulting in a dramatic increase in FCAT scores. Our first group of those PKZ students are enrolled in college.
On that first day, we stressed the critical need to focus on transportation and giving our residents options outside of their automobiles. After nearly 25 years of failed attempts to secure a public rail transit system, we were finally able to begin construction on SunRail, Central Florida’s first commuter rail line. We also put plans in place to expand LYMMO, Downtown’s free bus circulator, to Parramore and Thornton Park and worked to increase ridership on our LYNX bus system. And, last year LYNX hit record ridership of 28 million passengers. We also established an intelligent transportation system, which provides route guidance and emergency information for Downtown motorists, making it easier and safer to navigate our Downtown core.
On that first day, this administration inherited a 23 million dollar budget shortfall. So, we laid out a plan to fix the budget without raising taxes and without cutting police and fire protection while also putting measures in place to make our finances more accountable and transparent.
We didn’t just keep that promise, we went beyond it. Ten years later, taxes are lower than they were on that day and our residents pay the lowest tax rate of any major city in Florida.
Today, we have more police officers and firefighters per thousand residents than any other major city in Florida. We’ve reduced the overall number of employees everywhere else, with the only new spending going towards police and fire protection. We did all this without draining our reserves. The result of this hard work is that we are now in the best financial shape of any major city in Florida.
Now, things didn’t always happen like we planned. We have had our share of challenges and disappointments over the last ten years. We certainly have not been immune to a national recession that has crippled cities across the country. We had to adjust on the fly. We had to scale back some projects and reduce some services. We had to shrink the size of our City government and make sure we lived within our means.
Through it all, we were able to keep our vision for the future moving forward. The result of our perseverance is that people are talking about Orlando as the place that is primed to recover stronger and faster than anywhere else.
The successes of the past decade are important. They have shaped the City we live in now and the City that we will be a generation from now. But, we must remember that success isn’t a destination; it’s a direction.
On April 3rd, this City held an election for Mayor and our City Commissioners. The result was extremely gratifying because it was built on votes from every corner of our community by a diverse group of people who believe that a common set of challenges can only be overcome by a common set of solutions. In my mind, our residents didn’t so much cast a vote for me and the City commissioners on this stage… as they voted to keep this City going in the direction we have laid out, together. In order to “Keep it going,” we need to see the major projects and initiatives we just talked about through, not just to completion, but into a place of prosperity.
Keeping it going also means being relentless in the fight against crime.
While we’ve worked hard to dramatically reduce violent crime in our City over the past few years, property crimes like burglary continue to rise. This is simply unacceptable. So, we are launching a concentrated effort to boost police presence in all of our neighborhoods.
Starting today, all Orlando Police Department personnel, from the Police Chief to all specialized units and the patrol officers will spend time patrolling neighborhoods. This “all hands on deck” approach sends a clear message to these criminals: If you are committing crimes and breaking into our homes. OPD is going to catch you. I am also asking our residents to remain vigilant, and to stay involved in your own neighborhood’s safety by calling police to report suspicious activity.
Keeping it going means continuing to invest in our strong, diverse neighborhoods, the lifeblood of our community. It means focusing on our quality of life: the arts, parks, ball fields, playgrounds and green space. It means encouraging ridership on SunRail and giving residents the multi-modal transit options that connect with and compliment our commuter rail system like the expansion of the free Downtown circulator, LYMMO. Keeping it going means attracting more new companies and growing our own jobs in the industries of the future. It means maintaining our investment in Downtown Orlando, our region’s social and economic hub. It means completing the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and finding a way to refurbish the Citrus Bowl so we don’t lose out on the bowl games and the massive economic impact the facility creates every year. It means continuing, as a City government, to be as careful with a dollar as the families in our City.
Finally, keeping it going means using one of the biggest advantages we have as a City and a region… Partnership.
One of the major reasons we have been able to keep the promises we made a decade ago… is because of unparalleled partnership in Central Florida. This community has been able to bring people together and offer those people a voice in the shaping of their future in a way that simply does not exist in other cities. This “culture of collaboration” is a strategic advantage that we possess as we look to grow jobs and attract companies and compete with cities around the world.
The credit for this collaborative spirit goes to everyone who calls Orlando home. It goes to our City Commissioners. It goes to our Orange County commissioners and County Mayor, who I am committed to working with to overcome the common challenges we face. The credit goes to our Police officers and firefighters. It goes to the dedicated members of our City family who serve our residents. It goes to our elected leaders from across Central Florida, from local governments to our state and federal leaders. The credit goes to our faith-based community. It goes to our civic leaders and business community. It goes to our arts community, who today is celebrating the one year anniversary of the commencement of construction on the Dr. Phillips Center. It goes to our educational institutions, the University of Central Florida and Valencia College.
Most of all, it goes to our residents whose passion for the City Beautiful is the reason I wake up every day excited about going into work and excited about the future of Orlando. Yes, we have done so much. But, we still have work to do. So today, we recommit ourselves to keep it going!
God Bless America.
And, God Bless the City of Orlando.