Two familiar faces walked up to the podium at the bebeginning of Tuesday's Orange County Commission meeting that would decide the fate of Orlando City's new soccer specific stadium and further funding for the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and Florida Citrus Bowl. It was an important and potentially transforming vote for the city of Orlando.
And so the two people who first believed in Orlando as a big-time sports town spoke in favor of the new project to expand Orlando's sports opportunities.
Jim Hewitt and Pat Williams were among the first members of the public to speak in favor of Orlando City's new soccer stadium, a measure which was passed by a 5-2 vote Tuesday at the Orange County Commission and by a unanimous 7-0 vote at the Orlando City Council a few weeks earlier.
Both spoke of the vision it took for the city and county to come together and believe Orlando, a small, but growing town at the time, was ready for a major league sports franchise more than 25 years ago. They were back at the Orange County Commission to speak again of the vision it would take to transform the area once again.
After the vote was announced, the Magic released a statement congratulating their new neighbors:
"We want to congratulate Orlando City Soccer," Magic COO Alex Martins said. "What a great day for our community. Once again our political leaders and the business community has come together and shown great vision in making The City Beautiful a great place to live, work and play."
More than 100 people stood up to speak in favor of the stadium, many wearing the purple of Orlando City Soccer. The usual platitudes for a stadium were mentioned — economic activity brought to the area, more entertainment and cultural options for the city and its residents and the opportunity to host major sporting events. The usual arguments against it were presented — continued urban sprawl, pushing out residents of the Parramore area and public money being used for private enterprises.
There are valid arguments on both sides.
As far as stadium deals go, this is a very good deal for the city and really makes sense. Orlando City had agreed to pay half the cost of the stadium along with the franchise fee to get an MLS expansion team, becoming Orlando's second major professional sports franchise. The Magic did not pay that much for the Amway Center.
The stadium will also be going a few blocks away from Amway Center, helping bookend the entertainment complex the Magic plan to build across the street from Amway Center. Connecting the soccer stadium to Amway Center and then on to Church Street should increase entertainment options downtown and create an even livelier downtown experience.
The whole project will, of course, require more construction jobs to complete the project and then service industry jobs to staff the new entertainment options.
Again, this seems to fit perfectly into the city's plan to use Amway Center and these entertainment options to drum up business downtown. Only time will tell if the investment actually brings that kind of return to Orlando.