If They Build It . . .

Take a walk on Church Street on an ordinary weekend afternoon and you’ll feel like you’re in a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. It’s just plain dead down there, except for the occasional car passing through or the bored restaurant owner stepping onto the sidewalk to see if there’s any chance of a pedestrian stopping in for lunch.  

A horde of zombies would be a welcome sight.

It’s been a year since the Amway Center opened on downtown’s most famous brick corridor. But unless there’s an event inside or out on the street or it’s a weekend night of partying, Church Street might as well run through a gated community in Lake Mary.

Which is why Church Street, and more importantly, downtown, sorely need what the Orlando Magic are considering—spending $100 million to build a 24/7/365 destination directly across from Orlando’s new arena. It would replace the city-owned parking garage with a complex that could include a hotel, retail shops, entertainment and restaurant space, and offices for Magic staff. The team would move its headquarters from Maitland to the new downtown complex.

Downtown west of I-4 sorely needs development that would complement the revitalization that has been under way on the east side of the highway. The Magic estimate that the project would create 1,000 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs for downtown. The likely beneficiary of some of the development’s economic impact would be the predominantly African-American Parramore neighborhood. The new structure could be completed in 2014, years before the public-private urban renewal initiative known as the Creative Village takes shape on the old arena site a half-mile to the north.

It could take 10 years for the Creative Village to blossom into a residential environment. In the meantime, the Magic’s presence in Parramore would encourage other businesses to move into the community sooner rather than later.

I have no doubt that Mayor Buddy Dyer will give the Magic a sweetheart deal to make their project happen. Let’s see, keep a 600-space parking garage that’s mostly reserved for the Orlando Police Department or make way for a $100 million destination complex that could bring people downtown even on nonevent days? Hmm. I would have a hard time finding fault with Dyer if he had to sweeten the deal so much that Magic boss Alex Martins walked out of City Hall with a cavity.

Completion of the Magic’s development would come about a year after Dyer, assuming he wins re-election in 2012, has led the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the downtown performing arts center and the SunRail commuter train. In what could be his final term as mayor, Dyer would be realizing his goal of remaking Orlando into a full-time urban center.

Add the three major projects to the Amway Center, which in its first year fueled a boom of business openings in and near the Church Street entertainment corridor, and you have critical mass. Downtown would be a happening place day or night, and that could only be good for the city’s tax base as well as our quality of life.

I look forward to the day when a stop on Church Street for a weekend lunch won’t leave me feeling like I’m in a ghost town.

Mike boslet

Categories: Column