October 10, 2013
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Good Afternoon. Welcome to the Amway Center. Welcome to Downtown Orlando.
One of the first things I did after being entrusted with the privilege of serving as Mayor, was to gather a diverse cross section of residents to create a shared plan for breathing life back into a Downtown that people had taken to calling a “Ghost Town.” The group was called the Downtown Strategic Transition Team.
We started with a simple, shared belief: that in the century ahead, the health and vitality of Downtown Orlando would impact the fate of our whole region like never before. If Central Florida was to realize its potential, to compete and thrive in the new economy, then Downtown had to be more than it was.
Downtown Orlando had to be an economic engine and cultural hub for our entire region.
We have done so much, together, in the last ten years to advance this mission.
It has not been easy.
And, that is an understatement! We certainly haven’t achieved everything we set out to accomplish.
But, as I look back at the strategy set forth by our community in the fall of 2003, I am proud of the successes we’ve achieved, the challenges we’ve overcome and the position our center City is in today.
This task force created 166 recommendations to better our Downtown. Today, 136 of those are complete or in progress. That is a tremendous accomplishment and something everyone who calls Central Florida home can take pride in. As we celebrate the tenth Anniversary of our plan to revitalize and modernize Downtown Orlando, we’re not just going to focus on past achievements. Today is also about looking ahead and thinking about what’s next as we continue to work together to build the best Downtown in all of America!
To map out where we want to go, it’s important to remember how we got here.
The first of five major objectives outlined by our task force was to reenergize the core of our City by implementing what we called “Cornerstone Projects” that would create jobs, spur development and generate economic impact.
Over the last ten years, we’ve shepherded nearly 50 cornerstone projects to completion, which represents nearly two billion dollars worth of investment in Downtown Orlando.
They include high rises that transformed our skyline; 55 West, the Paramount, the Plaza, the Solaire, and the Vue.
These projects have increased residential units by more than 80 percent in the last ten years.
Just as important, these buildings are more than 90 percent full today. Our list also includes catalysts for job creation, innovation and education like the UCF Center for Emerging Media, the Federal Courthouse and the GAI building. Collectively, these projects have reshaped the look, as well as the economic fortunes, of our center City.
Another pillar of our strategic plan was transportation; making Downtown a more pedestrian friendly destination and expanding public transportation options. Today, more than 1 million people a year ride the free Lymmo circulator.
We’ve built an intelligent transportation system that directs people to available parking, notifies them of events and helps them navigate Downtown more easily. And, we’ve created a more walk-able Downtown by widening sidewalks, enhancing crosswalks, activating storefronts and by improving Gertrude’s Walk, which provides bikers and pedestrians with a unique urban trail that runs through our City. There is no doubt, the biggest transportation achievement has been the incredible team effort to finally, after years of work, build a rail system to carry daily workers to and from our Downtown core. You can see a SunRail locomotive for the first time today, along with a cab car, at Church Street Station.
Just a few months from now Central Floridians will, quite literally, have a connection to their Downtown aboard SunRail… our first commuter rail system. In fact, the next time we gather for this event, many of you will have traveled here on SunRail.
The third focus area of our 2003 plan was Quality of Life. We believed then, and still believe today, that more than any single amenity, superior quality of life is what draws employers, workers, residents and visitors to Downtown. Quality of life starts with safety.
We’ve made our Downtown safer by installing a network of IRIS police cameras, adding more foot and bike patrols and opening a new, state of the art Fire Department Headquarters that has helped us increase response times.
We’ve made our Downtown a destination for more free community events like concerts, farmer’s markets, parades, car shows, festivals and, of course, Fireworks at the Fountain.
Through partnerships with UCF, Florida A&M and the Nap Ford Community School we have made Downtown Orlando a place for lifelong learning.
Superior quality of life means protecting our environment and creating a culture of sustainability.
We’ve used Downtown to showcase green initiatives and help demonstrate a business case for sustainable actions and create a place where green tech and clean tech companies want to locate.
Ten years ago, there were no LEED certified buildings Downtown. Now we have 11, including OUC’s headquarters. Quality of life isn’t just about big projects. It’s also about the small touches and a sense of personal connectedness to a place. That’s why we augmented our tree canopy. That’s why we added green space with the opening of ZL Riley Park and the “The Lawn” at Lake Eola. And, it’s why we upgraded the Lake Eola Fountain and added a unique event space called “The Eola House” as part of our effort to make our signature park a one-of-a-kind destination.
The fourth element of our original plan was, and in many ways still is, the most challenging… to create a thriving retail, restaurant and hospitality sector. Ten years ago we declared this our goal, knowing that Downtown Orlando faced stiff competition from some of the best shopping areas and restaurants in the country, not to mention three of the largest hospitality destinations in the world.
Rather than compete, we’ve worked to build a Downtown that compliments the region’s other destinations… and that offers something unique.
We added restaurant offerings and have grown a robust nightlife scene. We’ve utilized mixed-use development to lay a foundation for future retail and hospitality growth. We opened a Downtown information center, where nearly six-thousand people a year have been able to get personalized information about Downtown. Our events and marketing program has worked to attract more business meetings to our City center, which resulted in 32-hundred room nights last year.
We’ve also made urban living more desirable by bringing a grocery store back to Downtown and helping small businesses open and succeed. This year alone, we welcomed 158 new businesses to Downtown, ranging from a fitness studio, to a home furnishing store, to my favorite… a gourmet popsicle shop.
The fifth pillar of our original plan called for retaining the Orlando Magic’s presence here in our center City, building a world-class performing arts center, expanding the presence of the arts, attracting more events and securing a movie theater. On this front, I’m not sure there’s a major Downtown anywhere in the United States that has accomplished as much in under a decade. Accomplishing these goals has taken longer than we wanted.
We’ve had to endure the effects of a nationwide recession. But, we persevered, we adapted and we refused to give up. Because of that hard work, our arts community is thriving. We’ve opened a movie theater and 15 art galleries since 2003. Because of that hard work, the Magic are celebrating their 25th anniversary in Orlando. This month, we celebrate the third anniversary of the opening of the Amway Center! Three years ago we gathered here to open the best arena in the entire world! The Amway center has been recognized for providing the best customer experience in the entire NBA. Nearly four million people from across Central Florida, around the country and all over the globe have attended events at this world-class facility in the last three years.
The Amway Center has become the home of the best concerts, best sports and best community events anywhere.
We are hosting events that we would not have been able to just a few years ago like NCAA tournament games, the NBA All Star Game, and this past weekend, world championship boxing.
For all of you basketball fans, you’ll want to know 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament tickets go on sale October 19th. For our growing number of Solar Bears hockey fans, we’re going to be hosting the 2015 ECHL All Star Classic.
More important than any one event, the Amway Center has become a destination where people have shared experiences and make memories with friends and loved ones. When you think about it… the Amway Center really is the embodiment of the shared vision we have for all of Downtown Orlando… to be a place that offers something unique… for everyone.
I just recounted the five focus areas of our original plan. There were actually six. But, Parramore was so important that we devoted an entire task force to Orlando’s historic African-American neighborhood. When we talk about the necessity of having a Downtown that creates opportunity for everyone… we have always believed that ideal must include the residents of Parramore.
Our work in Parramore has helped add 36 new affordable homes and 120 new housing units.
It’s helped reduce violent crime by 33 percent.
Perhaps the greatest impact, our outreach to more than 2,000 young people has resulted in an 87 percent reduction in Juvenile crime and given some of our most vulnerable students access to education and opportunities that have set them on course for brighter futures.
Many of you were with me recently for the Parramore Kidz Zone benefit where we got to hear from a few of the 27 PKZ kids who went to college this year. Thank you for your support of this critical program.
This community has done so much in the last ten years to change this Downtown for the better, forever. These accomplishments wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of everyone in this room and so many others throughout our City. What I would like to do is take a few moments and say thank you. When I say your names, please stand up and let us express our shared gratitude properly.
Thank you to our City Commissioners for your vision and leadership. Thank you to Mayor Teresa Jacobs and our partners at Orange County. Thank you to the Downtown Orlando Partnership.
Thank you to our Downtown Development Board. Thank you to our tremendous partners in the tourism community. Thank you to the members of the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness. Thank you to the small business owners in Downtown who have put your sweat and hard work into building a better Downtown Orlando. Thank you to the members of the Downtown Strategic Transition Team. Thank you to the members of our Parramore Task Force.
Thank you to our arts and sports community. Thank you to our City staff, who serve our residents every day. Most of all, thank you to our residents whose passion for Downtown makes me excited about going go to work every day. Because of you… we are experiencing a Downtown rebound unlike any our country has ever seen.
Because of you, we are on the verge of what’s going to be the most exciting year in the history of Downtown Orlando! I want everyone to think about what’s happening right now in Downtown and how it positions us for the future.
Ask yourselves… is there any other Downtown in America experiencing this much activity? At this moment, nine projects are underway that are creating thousands of jobs and represent a 1.3 billion dollar investment in Downtown. This list includes NORA, Skyhouse and the A-Loft hotel.
In the year ahead, six more projects will break ground that will add another 350 million dollars of investment in Downtown. Together, these 15 projects will add 15-hundred new residential units, 400 new hotel rooms and 50-thousand square feet of new retail space to Downtown.
Think about the arts, culture and sports renaissance going on. Has anyone noticed any new sculptures? Those are part of “See Art Orlando.” Orlando is the only City ever to install 8 privately funded, iconic, public art sculptures throughout its Downtown all at one time.
I want to invite everyone to join us on November 18th at the end of the work day for the community celebration of See Art Orlando.
I also want to thank the See Art Orlando Board, please stand and be recognized. In any other City, that announcement would be a blockbuster. In Orlando, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of arts, culture and sports. Next year, this event will be held inside our new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts! Not long after that, we will play our bowl games in a reconstructed Citrus Bowl. Tying this evolving sports and entertainment district together is the street-scape improvement project for Church Street, which includes a neighborhood entry-way to Parramore.
Think about our Downtown as a shared space. Downtown is the neighborhood that belongs to, and is shared by, everyone who calls Central Florida home. Our efforts to provide more shared amenities will mean an expanded Lake Eola Farmer’s market this year and movies at the park beginning this holiday season.
Think about how we are helping our neighbors in need. This year, our commitment to addressing homelessness takes an important step with the opening of a men’s service center that goes far beyond giving those less fortunate a place to sleep. The service center will provide intake assessment, comprehensive case management, counseling and a path toward self-sufficiency.
Later today, I will join the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness to launch the “Re-Think” campaign, which helps raise awareness about our largest homeless population, children and families.
Think about SunRail, which is being finished before our eyes. SunRail is the spine of what will eventually be a region-wide, multi-modal network of transportation options that allow us to get where we want to go without having to rely solely on car ownership and expensive gasoline.
From SunRail’s foundation, we’re going to see Lymmo expanding to our hospitals and to Parramore and Thornton Park.
Today, we are excited to announce the names of those new Lymmo routes that were chosen by our residents and reflect our Florida heritage. Next year we can ride the Grapefruit line… the Lime line and the Orange line. We’re going to see car sharing and bike sharing programs launch in Downtown – and the expanded use of electric cars through the Drive Electric Orlando program.
In fact, you can join me later today as we launch car sharing. SunRail also paved the way for the renovation of the historic Amtrak Station and the Sligh Boulevard district, which will now offer greater amenities for commuters and visitors to the Orlando Health campus.
And, Florida Hospital has re-oriented its campus to connect with SunRail. SunRail’s connective power doesn’t just stop at the borders of Central Florida. By eventually linking SunRail to the airport and to All Aboard Florida, the planned train to South Florida, we will help build a connection between Downtown Orlando and the entire state… as well as the world. Those transit linkages will be critical to attracting the job creators and workers of the future and to further diversify our economy.
Finally, let’s think about the future and the legacy we are creating for future generations. Right now, we have six proposed projects that would mean another 2 billion dollars in investment. We are working to keep that pipeline filled. We also know the types of projects we seek need to evolve. With the Creative Village and its 5-thousand knowledge jobs as an anchor, and more tech companies looking to call our center City home… our vision is for Downtown Orlando to be the South’s new “Tech Hub.”
Let’s also think about how the next generation of projects lend themselves to positively impacting so many different facets of our Downtown. The plan we are bringing forward for a new OPD headquarters is a perfect example.
Replacing this crumbling 41 year old building will help give our officers new tools and training to fight crime, and it will make our department more accessible to citizens. The benefits don’t stop with safety. A new OPD headquarters paves the way for the redevelopment of an entire block in the heart of our Downtown entertainment district. Funding the OPD headquarters, in part, from the large-scale energy savings generated by retrofitting our City facilities helps us save money and allows us to take a national leadership role in showcasing how sustainable decisions can make business sense.
In order to be the home of 21st century workers and visitors, we have to have 21st century amenities. That’s why the sports and entertainment development proposed by the Orlando Magic is so important. With an urban convention center, hotel rooms, retail space and the team’s headquarters, we will be able to transform an entire block into a place that attracts more visitors to Downtown and allows us to host Downtown-wide conventions for the first time in decades.
Just a block west of this project, we are planning a new stadium for the first Major League Soccer team in the southeast!
On Monday, the Orlando City Council unanimously approved the plan to make this happen.
With one more vote from our partners at the county, Major League Soccer will be a reality in Central Florida.
Today 15 thousand people live in Downtown. Every day 75 thousand people come to work here.
Thousands more visit Downtown. Those numbers are only going to grow. We are blessed to have a region filled with internationally renowned destinations. Our region’s future depends on working to ensure that Downtown Orlando is that same kind of world-class destination. A destination for job creation and innovation. For nightlife, arts and cultural amenities. For urban living. For dining and shopping. For life long learning.
A world-class destination for anyone who wants to live, work, learn and play in Central Florida.
To help guide us, I am excited to announce that we are calling on our residents and businesses, once again, to help create a strategic plan for the next ten years in Downtown. This new task force will be called, Project D-T-O. Project D-T-O’s efforts will be bolstered by a federal grant for strategic planning in Parramore. Project D-T-O will take up the mission that their peers started a decade ago and to craft a road map for the continued growth of Downtown Orlando.
This task force is unique and important because it allows people who are passionate about Downtown to have the opportunity to help shape its future. We must always remember that at its core… people are what make Downtown Orlando. Our Downtown is a living thing. It’s an ever-evolving and supremely diverse collection of people who make the decision to have Downtown Orlando play an important role in their lives. Each of these people has a different motivation for making Downtown Orlando their destination, a different reason for why Downtown is special to them. Each of these people, in ways big and small, is going to help us chart our course for the future. I could tell you why our residents love their Downtown. But, I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. So, rather than just tell you… we wanted to show you!
Thank you for attending today. Thank you, once again, for your commitment to Downtown Orlando and to making our City the best place anywhere to live, work, learn and raise a family. Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to some of Orlando’s residents who’ve made Downtown Orlando their destination.