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bobliocatt

Orlando's bowled over by Jacksonville

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Orlando's bowled over

OK, OK. We give. Orlando's ingredients are stale and outdated. Jacksonville ranks as a better sports city.

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We can endure the hockey envy of Tampa Bay's thundering support of its Lightning.

We can bear the basketball and baseball envy of Miami's fire burning bright for its Heat and South Florida still basking in the proud afterglow of the Marlins winning the World Series.

We even can subsist in this athletically apathetic community, where the rallying cry these days has become, How 'bout our Rollins women's golf team!?

But we can't take this. Now, Orlando, we've hit the lowest point of all: Even Jacksonville is making fun of our sports futility -- and facilities.

In a gloating article Tuesday in the Florida Times-Union, columnist Gene Frenette went on and on ad nauseam about Jacksonville being the overwhelming favorite to host the Atlantic Coast Conference championship football game, and then he blew off Orlando's chances with this little backhanded bromide to the chops:

"Orlando?" Frenette wrote incredulously. "By modern stadium standards, their Citrus Bowl is as Mickey Mouse as their main tourist attraction. Jacksonville's facilities and financial package are superior to almost anything others can offer."

Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Frenette. You are a no-good, dirty, rotten, stinking braggart. And one other thing: You couldn't be more . . . right.

Sadly, Orlando, this is what it's come to: We have become Jacksonville's punch line. We used to make fun of Jacksonville's countrified, fish-and-grits image, but guess what? They may be banjo pickers, but we're second fiddle. Remember that strange aroma in Jacksonville everybody used to make fun of? Turns out it's the sweet smell of success.

And maybe it's not just coincidence that the St. Johns is one of those rare rivers that flows northward. All the good stuff, it seems, is being sucked out of here and is ending up in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville has an NFL franchise, Jacksonville will play host to the Super Bowl next year, Jacksonville is a near slam dunk to host the ACC title game, and yes, Jacksonville is Orlando's chief competitor for the proposed fifth Bowl Championship Series football game.

Marcia. Marcia. Marcia.

Jacksonville. Jacksonville. Jacksonville.

"The playing field has definitely tilted in Jacksonville's favor," said Rick Catlett, executive director of Jacksonville's Toyota Gator Bowl.

Chided Jacksonville sports radio host Joe Cowart: "When we get finished taking the BCS bowl away from Orlando, we're going to go after Disney World next. If Orlando's lucky, maybe we'll let 'em keep the Mystery Fun House."

Sure, we could fire back. We could say that even with all the major athletic endeavors the city is pursuing, Jacksonville's three favorite sporting events remain (1) Deer Season, (2) Hog Season, (3) Squirrel Season. We could say that the most excited Jacksonvillians ever have become about a sporting announcement wasn't when the NFL awarded the city an expansion franchise, it was when the bag limit on an antlerless buck went from one per season to three per season.

But why take cheap shots? The fact is that Jacksonville has earned its sporting superiority over us. Just like Tampa Bay did a generation ago, Jacksonville has made a concerted, civic commitment to being a sports town. While Orlando dickers and debates the merits of spending tax dollars to fund sports facilities, Jacksonville just gets it done.

"The mind-set of Jacksonvillians changed significantly when we successfully recruited the NFL into our city," said Catlett, who was one of the point men for bringing the Jaguars to Jacksonville. "That converted us. We saw the many benefits -- both economically and socially -- that big-time sports brings to a community."

Four years ago, voters even went to the polls and chose to tax themselves to fund a $2.2 billion "Better Jacksonville Plan" that included building new roads and new buildings -- including a downtown arena and a beautiful minor-league baseball park.

Meanwhile in Orlando, the Magic are begging for a new arena, and Mayor Buddy Dyer still is trying to scrape together enough cash to renovate aging Tinker Field in hopes of luring a minor-league baseball team back to town. It's pretty bleak when your minor-league franchise, the Orlando Rays, leaves for Alabama last year and changes its name to -- are you ready for this? -- the Montgomery Biscuits. Jacksonville is stealing from us, Montgomery is stealing from us, who's next -- Pocatello or Paducah?

Orlando has every advantage over Jacksonville. It has better weather, a better airport, more hotels and unmatched entertainment attractions. But Jacksonville has two things we don't -- vision and commitment. Orlando is right smack in the middle of the most football-fanatical state in the country, yet here we sit with a 68-year-old football stadium in desperate need of $50 million in renovations. Without those renovations, we have no chance at a championship football game that would mean hundreds of millions in economic impact.

Why are we still haggling about where the money for refurbishing is going to come from? Time is of the essence. Fire up the jackhammers; crank up the dump trucks.

"It all comes down to facilities," Catlett said. "You can have a great city, but you're not going to get major events unless you have the facilities. The key is to have politicians who have the courage to spend the money on facilities."

Speaking of politicians, it should be noted that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is making a campaign trip to Florida this week.

He'll be in Orlando today.

But he stopped first in Jacksonville on Tuesday.

Figures.

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Orlando vs. Jacksonville: Comparing facilities

FOOTBALL STADIUM

Orlando: Florida Citrus Bowl. Capacity of 70,000. The stadium hosts two bowl games and the Florida Classic between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman. But the stadium needs at least $50 million in renovations to be considered "good."

Jacksonville: Alltel Stadium. Capacity of 73,000. The stadium is the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and also hosts a bowl game and the annual Florida-Georgia game. It has undergone three refurbishments in the past decade and is a great place to watch a football game.

The buzz: Advantage, Jacksonville. Alltel will host the 2005 Super Bowl. Hey, what more needs to be said?

BASEBALL STADIUM

Orlando: Tinker Field. Capacity of 5,104. Tinker has been around for a while but recently has undergone renovations and will host a team in a new four-team Central Florida college-level league this summer. There's also Cracker Jack Stadium at Disney's Wide World of Sports, but that's a long way from downtown.

Jacksonville: Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Capacity of 10,000. The Class AA Jacksonville Suns play at the stadium, which opened last year.

The buzz: Advantage, Jacksonville. The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (BGOJ) blows away Tinker Field. Cracker Jack Stadium compares favorably to the BGOJ, but BGOJ's downtown proximity gives Jacksonville the edge.

ARENA

Orlando: TD Waterhouse Centre. Capacity of 17,248. The arena opened in 1989, and while it's on the low end in terms of NBA arenas, it's still a viable facility.

Jacksonville: Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Capacity of 16,000. The arena opened last fall but doesn't have a big-league tenant. The arena will host first- and second-round games of the NCAA Tournament in 2006.

The buzz: Advantage, Orlando. Yes, TD Waterhouse can be better, but it's bigger than its Jacksonville counterpart -- and it also has a big-time tenant.

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Jacksonville improved 300% when they closed down the paper factory on the St. John's and you didnt have to smell that going through town on 95. Nothing like enriched splintered pine bark being processed into grocery bags to wake a guy up in the morning. :D

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Good article, sounds like Jerry Greene from the Sentinel.

The Citrus Bowl just sucks, period. In my opinion they should tear it down and start again, but that's not going to happen. I used to go to Orlando Thunder games there.

I'm not big on spending tax money on sports stadiums anyway. Jax seems to be flush with it. I hope Orlando works something out in order to be competitive, but I woun't cry if they don't. Sports teams don't make a city, but they do completement them rather nicely. I'd rather see light rail than a new arena.

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^I'd rather see light rail too, but it looks like Orlando doesn't want to do whats necessary to get that done either. They should have had a light rail line already completed by now, but a couple of commissioners blew it.

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I wonder if the city would ever consider a Better Orlando Plan. It did wonders for Jacksonville, (except for that stupid Courthouse.....) I know there was another city (I think it might have been Miami) that was interested in how Jax pulled it off. With a city-wide improvement plan, new venues, transit, roads and everything else could all be included.

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^ Mayor Buddy Dyer has put together some sort of advisory board to get things rollin, however many of those "catalyst" projects like building new courthouses or libraries is unnecessary in Orlando, those things exist already. The new Federal courthouse in Parramore is U/C right now, beside the new FAMU Law school which is about two floors up now.

If Dyer lasts for the long term, which I hope he does, I envision him bringing up the lightrail issue again. He is a lot stronger than Glenda Hood, she was such a pushover.

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Yeah, Orlando used to be light years ahead of Jacksonville in everything; even deer season.

Cities that are dreaming or vying of becoming "Major League" might not need a football team to do so, but history shows that it sure does help. Look at Tampa; in 1976 Tampa was a sleepy, ho hum, paducah type town like Jacksonville was in 1995. It only took five years before Tampa exploded with skyscrapers, improved bulding and construction, national and international exposure, and, mind you, the same thing happened to Jacksonville!

But alas, I don't think Orlando needs a professional sports team. Everything is already in place in Orlando; Orlando just needs the right leader and politicians to get it focused and headed in the right direction....and then they can add the sports team as "icing on the cake."

FLORIDA SKYRISE ORDER

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well, as much as i'd love a NFL team in Orlando, its not going to happen. I dont think this takes away exposure, however. Orlando is pretty famous for its obvious reasons (internationally).

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While more teams would be nice, there's nothing wrong with the Magic. We also have one of the best AFL teams, which I find more exciting than the NFL.

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Jacksonville did it by learning from our humiliation. When I was a kid, Colts fever took over one year; the excitement was palpable. One evening, cheering fans filled the Gator Bowl (I seem to remember skydivers and a guy with a jet pack, too) and we staked our claim on Football and waited. We sat like a deficient, crooked-toothed prom date in a budget, powder-blue-with-ruffles tuxedo who was only courted to make a competitor jealous enough to buy our intended date a nicer corsage. We had been used and it hurt.

We got braces, grew out of our awkward phase (okay, so we're not totally out of it), and became more handsome and well funded. We didn't make the mistake of renting an outdated tux, we went out and bought a nice, hand-made, high-fashion Italian tuxedo even though we had to sacrifice and borrow against our future to do so. We stood up with the other guys and the dating serive picked us -- only this time, we weren't getting someone else's date; a whole new girl was moving to town.

The article shouldn't gloat, though. Jacksonville's relationship with the Jaguars is one that requires maintenance and football is a high maintenance woman. We're not kind, we even look at her and tell her that it isn't the dress that makes her look fat, it's the butt. Orlando; however, is a fairly impressive-looking date, too (possibly even a little more polished than Jacksonville -- we're a little more ruggedly handsome). Orlando has the strenghts of a constantly fresh population via tourism, many of whom have never been to an American Football game before. Marketed correctly, Orlando could even avoid local broadcast blackouts via tourism without local business buying out all of the cheap seats. "...as Mickey Mouse as their main tourist attraction" -- done right, this would be an asset.

And baseball, well, Hank Aaron played here.

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I've always thought of Orlando as more of a city that didn't get a fair shake. It is close to Tampa and Jacksonville, so it seemed like it always got pressure from other cities to be like them.

Orlando is a unique city in that it has world-class tourism...like Miami, but probably more family-oriented. Again, a football team would be good, but it would require area's population to be tripled in order to get a decent television market.

As far as the Citrus Bowl, have there been any attempts to add a tax in Orange County (much like the Better Jacksonville Plan)?

I think the main thing with Jacksonville is that it indeed had a inferiority complex, because it seemed to be such a great city, but it was constantly overlooked. Even now, it is overlooked...look at the Weather Channel. They ALWAYS have Tampa, Orlando, and Miami forecasts on the map, but never Jax. That complex has pushed the citizens of the city to step up and make the city recognized. Orlando has a bad reputation of being "the city that Disney built". If it can get an inferiority complex like Jax, it can push itself as well to step up and get itself rebuilt.

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Rebuilt? What needs to be rebuilt? I don't think we need an inferiority complex to get things done. And IMO, we have no reason to have one.

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I'm not sure I understand by getting itself rebuilt? The stadium itself or the city?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Sorry, I mean the city. It has a fantastic skyline and downtown, don't get me wrong, but it seems like newer development is concentrated outside of downtown in the outlying areas. Jax is experiencing a surge in downtown development along with its sports complexes. Orlando's sports complexes and downtown can experience the same type of surge.

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Rebuilt? What needs to be rebuilt? I don't think we need an inferiority complex to get things done. And IMO, we have no reason to have one.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

In order for a city to build things like a new stadium or new complexes, motivation of the citizens and leaders is a key factor. Without something to motivate development, things will stay the same or develop excruciatingly slow. My hometown is a clear example of this. There were plans to build a new 35,000 seat stadium for my alma mater The Citadel (its a military college located downtown) instead of renovating the current stadium which seats 22,000. It would be used by the college's football team, but it also was to serve as a stadium to bring a college bowl game to Charleston, which would have been called the Palmetto Bowl.

The leaders took too much time and took nearby residents concerns too seriously, and the project fell through. Now, a mediocre stadium will be renovated, and Charleston will keep its stance as a mediocre sports town. People there are too timid and obsessed with preservation, and the result is a city that is not planning and developing for the future. In other words, there is not as much motivation to encourage rapid growth and more economic prosperity.

Orlando has more people and more motivation to get things done. I would love it if Orlando got its stadium refurbished or redone.

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