The Amway Center’s Impact on Orlando: Church Street Station

The following is part two in a series examining the Amway Center’s potential impact on Orlando. Be sure to check out part one.

AmwayDowntown
Amway Center’s construction has towered over Church Street Station,
but will it revitalize the once bustling downtown district?
Andrew Yowler/Orlando Magic Daily

For the last couple of years, the construction of the gleaming, brand-spanking new $380 million Amway Center arena has kept Central Floridians focused on the evolution of downtown.

With everything I have seen and heard about the incredible features of the new arena, I am pretty sure that Amway Center will definitely be one great place to watch Dwight Howard dominate. That is a hard point to argue.

But, as the building finally nears completion, a critically important question to ask is this: What will the new arena offer outside of its shiny doors?

Located much closer to the heart of downtown than the old Amway Arena, the site selection of the new Amway Center already seems to be a slam dunk (pardon the awfully cheesy pun). Whereas the old Amway Arena is indeed downtown, the new place has the potential to actually become the heartbeat of downtown Orlando.

However, not everyone initially agreed on Church Street when trying to determine where to build Orlando’s new arena years ago. Rather, some citizens fiercely lobbied instead to build the new arena around International Drive in the heart of tourist country.

One man in particular, I-Drive hotel magnate Harris Rosen, was very vocal about his opposition to the arena’s location. Rosen argued that Orange County should not use tourist tax revenue to build a venue that did not directly benefit the tourism industry.

However, many people simply saw Rosen’s efforts (failed petition and all) as an attempt to have county leaders choose to build the Magic’s new home on I-Drive, a move that would have undoubtedly benefitted Rosen’s business interests.

For a moment, try to imagine the arena on I-Drive. Nothing like driving an hour to catch a Magic game while snagging some $1 airbrushed t-shirts and a pair of Mickey Mouse ears outside the arena. The brand new “Magic Kingdom” would have been, well, pretty much in the Magic Kingdom.

Nothing against Disney or tourists whatsoever, but an arena on I-Drive would have officially cemented Orlando as being nothing more than a tourist town. While tourists do drive our economy, we have got to draw the line somewhere.

The Magic are our team. The Magic are not just one night’s worth of entertainment for a visiting family from London. The team is part of our community, and it would not have been right to make our team another part of a tourist’s vacation checklist between visits to Universal and Disney World.

 

Instead, local leaders and developers decided that keeping the venue downtown would be best for our community, keeping sporting events and concerts centrally located for most Central Floridians. Good call.

So, now that the arena has sprung up downtown on the corner of Hughey Avenue and Church Street, is this new building finally the magic elixir to all of the woes of Church Street Station?

As I mentioned in part one, the thriving, party-filled days of Church Street have generally faded away. While the street does boast a few nightclubs near Orange Avenue and a sprinkling of restaurants here and there, it’s clear that Church Street was left behind.

Over time, Church Street simply could not compete with the glitz and appeal of nightclub destinations at Disney and Universal. The locals that Church Street depended on for years, in large part, just started partying elsewhere.

Local staples like Rosie O’Grady’s and Jungle Jim’s have long since closed down, and the Cheyenne Saloon has had trouble for years trying to survive through slumping business. Revitalization efforts in the past just did not work out. Club Paris, anyone?

Essentially, Church Street’s demise amounts to one, simple issue: no one is coming.

Right now, some of the oldest, most historic buildings in Orlando sit with many empty storefronts. The old train station has long sat on the corner of a general ghost town.

However, long overdue change has finally come to Church Street. Will this change actually rejuvenate Church Street once and for all?

New development from the Amway Center and the nearby 55 West apartment high-rise might…just might…be enough to spark a rebirth of Church Street Station.

It’s safe to say that the new arena will resoundingly benefit the area. For at least 41 nights a year, over 18,000 people will funnel into the Amway Center for Magic games. Talk about some serious foot traffic. On top of that, the arena already has five non-Magic events scheduled for the month of October alone.

Bottom line: People are coming back to Church Street, and even if only a fraction of those arena-goers actually stop for a burger at Hamburger Mary’s or a beer at Gino’s Pizza, we are still talking about thousands of customers. It sure beats the typical weeknight’s meager handful of people.

Also, considering the new Amway Center parking garage does not provide enough spaces to meet demand (odd, I know), many Magic fans and concert-goers will need to park elsewhere downtown within walking distance of the arena. By parking in nearby garages and the lots underneath I-4, visitors will naturally have to walk along Church Street, peering in store and restaurant windows for sure.

Anticipating the potential in a large, new customer base both from apartment residents and arena-goers, Heat, a new nightclub, and Baby Grands, a “dueling piano bar,” have already started construction in the Church Street Market area. A new sports bar is also rumored to be in the works near Cheyenne Saloon, an ideal location to appeal to Magic fans.

The new arena is clearly igniting some hope for prosperity for local business owners along Church Street. It is exciting to see what will happen come October.

Now, I am not saying Amway Center will be the silver bullet that will solve all of Church Street’s woes. The overall local economy is still sputtering, and many people are still pinching pennies due to financial uncertainty.

But, if you think about it, if people are willing to fork out money to see the Magic play or hear The Eagles rock out in the new arena, they will probably okay with spending some money outside of the new arena, as well.

My Verdict: Amway Center’s Potential to Improve Church Street A

For the next part of this series, I try to determine the potential the new arena has to improve the Parramore neighborhood. Will Amway Center really have a beneficial impact on the neighborhood’s residents next door, or did local leaders overestimate the new arena’s potential for Parramore? 

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