If They Build It . . .

For fan enjoyment and as a city showpiece, the new Amway Center looks like a winner. But as a game-changer for downtown? Well, we’ll see.

I paid Amway Center a few visits during October, its first month of operation, and found that the $480 million arena lived up to almost all of the hype surrounding it. It’s big and beautiful, inside and out, and does fill downtown with pedestrians on event nights. Here are some of my observations on the arena:


Yes, it’s essentially a big box, but unlike the arena it replaced, Amway Center doesn’t look like it belongs in an industrial park in south Orlando. It has class, thanks to all that glass on the building’s façade and the palm trees planted on both sides of West Church Street, between Division Street and Hughey Avenue. The pedestrian plazas in front of the AC merge seamlessly with the faux brick-paved street because there is no curb, another nice touch to the streetscaping. At night, the color-coded illuminated tower on the Amway’s northeast corner adds an interesting visual element to the skyline.


The picture quality of the scoreboard’s, ah, excuse me, video-board’s four, 24-by-17-foot hi-def screens is so good that if you’re sitting in the upper levels you will spend more time watching a game on the flat panels than watching it on the floor. The arena’s sound system is first-rate, too.


You get what you pay for, with more legroom and greater cushion comfort in the pricey lower bowl seats. The higher you go in the arena the less comfortable the seating is, but there really isn’t a bad seat in the house for viewing an event.


Sky Bar never got off the ground as scheduled on Oct. 28. The city said the vendor still had some work to complete on the space, and it was to open in early November, past our deadline, as One 80 (for the 180-degree skyline view the top-level terrace bar affords). Meanwhile, Gentleman Jack Terrace (above), three levels  below One 80, is a hit as a halftime hot spot. Some Magic fans can be found spending more time on the patio bar’s cushy seats, watching the game on flat screens while socializing over drinks, than in their arena seats. If you paid only $5 for a nosebleed seat, that’s not a bad idea, really.


The Amway’s spread-out parking options do promote the urban foot traffic that city officials had hoped would benefit downtown merchants, but are those hordes spending money in the bars and restaurants on Church and Orange? My “man on the street” research suggested that most event-goers park and walk directly to the AC and then rush back to their cars after events on weeknights, but on weekend nights Amway patrons take advantage of downtown’s entertainment offerings. I checked in on several Church Street bars and restaurants before and after the Magic’s regular-season home opener on a weeknight, a sellout, and none was packed. I saw lots of empty tables and a few bored hostesses. Still, the AC has sparked a wave of business openings on Church. The new Mojo Cajun Bar & Grill is in a great location in the old Rosie O’Grady’s spot on the southwest corner of Church and Garland Avenue, a block east of the AC. Also new to Church is Baby Grands Dueling Piano Bar (above), located on the second level of the 54 West commercial plaza. Meanwhile, two bars and an upscale restaurant were scheduled to open in the 55 West condo tower in late November. We’ll have to take a wait-and-see attitude on the Amway’s impact on downtown’s businesses, but my gut tells me that there is only so much time and money people spend on going to events and most of both will be spent inside the well-appointed venue.


You can get meatloaf and Japanese noodles in the AC. No kidding. The array of food and beverage choices is as impressive as the roominess of the concourses in which the concession stands and specialty carts are situated. Besides the usual fare of burgers, dogs and pizza (which, in this case, is Papa John’s), above, the cuisine offerings include Latin (pressed Cuban sandwiches), Mexican (steak or chicken tacos), good ol’ American BBQ sandwiches (brisket and smoked turkey, among others) and kid-friendly items near STUFF’S Magic Castle on the top level. There are even two Cold Stone Creamery concessions! Beverage options are just as plentiful, ranging from domestic (Budweiser, Coors and Miller) and imported (Heineken, Amstel Light and Guinness) beers to mixed drinks to soft drinks (Pepsi products). The best part about eating at the Amway is there is plenty of space in which to do it, with tables and chairs set in areas out of the way of patron traffic. With hi-def, flat-screen TVs everywhere you look, you don’t miss a second of the game while waiting to buy your food and eating it in a concourse. Concession prices are predictably jacked up but not outrageous ($5.25 for a 16-oz. Bud, $12.75 for a tasty brisket sandwich, for example), and the food is surprisingly pretty good.


Lines were barely an inconvenience at the Magic’s sold-out season-opener. Fans could be seen going right up to concession counters and into restrooms any time except halftime.


Dining critic Joseph Hayes reviews the Amway’s upscale restaurant, as well as other restaurants in the Church Street entertainment district, in next month’s City Dining department.

Categories: Community