The Amways Center’s Impact on Orlando: An Introduction

The following is part one in a series examining the Amway Center’s potential impact on Orlando.

Well, the time is finally almost here. Capping off years of a rather vicious, cutthroat battle in the world of local politics and opinion, the brand-new Amway Center is set to open for business this October.

In what Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has often referred to as part of the “triple crown” for downtown (paired with the new arts center and renovated Citrus Bowl), many citizens have watched the massive new building sprout up into the downtown skyline alongside I-4. As of today, we can all assume the major sports and entertainment impact the new arena will have on Central Florida. The Magic are sporting new digs going into the new season, along with the Arena Football League’s Predators.

For the Magic, starting the 2010-2011 campaign on national TV against (reportedly) LeBron and D-Wade would undoubtedly draw instant attention from the country to the new Amway Center. Furthermore, the NBA has announced the new Amway Center will host the 2012 All-Star Game, seemingly David Stern’s gift to Orlando and Orange County for forking out the cash to build the new venue. And, with many artists recently opting for more modern venues in places like nearby Tampa and Miami, Orlando has ended up as a somewhat overlooked contender in the concert world. With the new, state-of-the-art Amway Center, Orlando is sure to regain some footing in its ability to lure the world’s biggest performers to town.

I mean, I can’t sleep at night anticipating that the Jonas Brothers will soon melt the hearts of Orlando’s preteens at Amway in October! (Just kidding, of course… the show’s already been canceled).

It’s pretty clear that the new arena will bring sports and entertainment in Orlando into the 21st century. The new place includes various bars and restaurants, posh suites, and interactive zones for kids –features non-existent at the old Amway Arena. As much as I am nostalgic about some great memories at the old Amway Arena, Amway Center will definitely be very cool.

But, this got me thinking. Did the city and county just drop hundreds of millions of dollars into a brand new sports venue simply because it’s, well… ‘cool’?

Various economists have rather emphatically stated that, in general, arena and stadium projects, although often touted as a way to jumpstart economic development, really have minimal financial impact when all is said and done. Others argue, however, that the sense of civic pride resulting from events and games held at a new, well-equipped arena is worth the cost. After all, few things bring a city together like the success of a sports franchise (see New Orleans). But, what will this particular arena do for our particular town? What potential does Amway Center have to change Orlando?

In the next article of this series, I try to determine what this new facility will mean to one of Orlando’s most well-known streets: Church Street. Once a lively cluster of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, Church Street Station simply faded away into history once Disney’s Pleasure Island and Universal’s CityWalk came onto the scene. Once the hub of Orlando’s nightlife, Church Street Station became more well-known instead recently as the headquarters of Lou Pearlman’s funny business… But, now that the new Amway Center’s front door spills out onto Church, what will it mean to the downtown entertainment district that’s struggled for so long? Is a Church Street renaissance around the corner?