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The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight


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Because it was before many of our posters were even born, there's often the assumption that a lot of exists downtown  came to be because of market forces, or because building owner/developers really wanted to be in a certain spot or heck, in some cases, just because of divine intervention.


It has also been suggested here in this spot that the city really has no power over what happens downtown. Starting tonight, I'd like to suggest that isn't true and hasn't been true for much of downtown as we know it, from the time I-4 was first moved (it wasn't supposed to go downtown) until today, when coverage of the proposed soccer stadium in Parramore conveniently fails to note there will be significant profits from the City's purchases of land by out of town developers who already made amazing $$$$ off the new Federal Courthouse).


We'll cover all that at a later date, but I'd like to start in the 1970's with the government buildings that played a large part in killing downtown.


Orlando's Police Department on S. Orange Avenue was located in one of the city's oldest elementary school buildings and was falling apart. Part of Governor Reubin Askew's effirts to modernize Florida government (and not coincidentally to ensure the state capital would not be moved from Tallahassee as it almost was when predecessor Claude Kirk was governor) resulted in a series of state office buildings being constructed in various regions of the state. Orlando's combination Post Office/Federal Courthouse, which dated back to the days between the Depression and WWII, also needed to be expanded.


Enter the city planners. No one involved with these buildings had any burning desire to move over west of I4 - there was nothing over there but Parramore, which was rapidly depopulating thanks to the Equal Housing and Civil Rights laws passed in the 60's.


However, city planners (the term of course is an oxymoron for those who toiled between the 50s and the 70s, including the professors who taught them) came up with the brilliant idea of segmenting downtown into three districts:  (1) Government Square west of I4; (2) Orange Square, which is roughly the downtown core and (3) Library Square, to encompass the area around the library.


Areas 2 & 3 never really amounted to much, but because there was money to be spent constructing government buildings and they generally tried to follow local preferences, "Government Square" (the names never took hold, either) came to be built.


Keep in mind, these buildings, housing hundreds if not thousands of workers, were one of the few things going on downtown in those days. The action had moved out toward I-Drive and Disney to the south and to the 436 and 434 corridors to the north (thanks, Clayton Properties!) 


Now, since no one in those days wanted to walk, and walking under I4 on wide roads not designed for pedestrians even less so, almost immediately what happened was that all these workers simply hopped in their cars and onto I4 to go to lunch or go shopping. It was actually easier than walking to Orange Ave or getting in your car and trying to find a parking spot over there.


The rest, as they say is history, and none of it had to happen. It's a good thing to remember the next time someone tells you the City can't have any impact on what happens downtown.


In my next post: Out of town developers and the amazing profits to be made from speculating on empty lots in Parramore.

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