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spenser1058

The Historic Downtown Core: Can It Be Saved?

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This is going to take a while to flesh out and I hope some of the fine posters will help to fill in some of the blanks and bits of history as I don't always have the ability to go back and do the complete research on the first pass of some of these items (if only SOMEONE would digitize the Orlando Sentinel - I think I'd even be willing to pay for access rather than having to go through the creaky old microfiche at OPL.)

Anyway, I've been spending a bit of time in the old Orange Ave. Historic District running roughly from Jefferson St. down to Church St. One of the first thinkgs I've noticed is the DDB or CRA or City, whoever is in charge of paying the "Clean Team," has been doing less and less of it lately. Now I'm assuming the budget cuts during the recession had a god bit to do with that, as they did with Eola Park until recently (and now Buddy's been going whole hog over there so I'm ever hopeful), but with each passing year it just looks seedier and seedier. Now there are some cities where that might not matter, but I admit that one thing you could say about Orlando all these years was that outside the totally blighted areas things were always keep tidy. It's one reason we pay more to live in the City than in the unincorporated county (I'm planning to address that issue in another post - it seems so many of these issues run together and it's hard to tie all the strands together.)

I have concluded a few things based on watching the area since the Streetscape project got underway in the early 1980's, and we've watched downtown boom in some areas while others seem to be languishing.

(1) Based on the "For Lease" signs on the older, historic buildings downtown (and Jack, is there a way to get reliable numbers on occupancy for these buildings vs. downtown generally- it really would be nice to know,) it seems that there is a limited demand for boutique office space among the firms (lawyers, accountants, etc.) who are the source of downtown's leasing market. And it's not just the private sector - where once the Supervisor of Elections used the building at 1 N. Orange (and it was later used by the FAMU Law School until they built their own building over by I4), Bill Cowles and his group have long since headed for the hinterlands of Kaley St., for easier access, parking and the like. The main tag office isn't downtown and, in addition to the various county offices along South St. in the old CNL buildings, such things as the sheriff, corrections, public works, etc. have all gone to the 'burbs.

(2) Please feel free to tell me "I told you so" if I'm wrong, but based on past performance, I truly do not expect Valencia or UCF to have a significant downtown presence. When Valencia originally purchased the old First National Bank building on Orange at Church, they talked of making it a downtown "campus." Mostly, in the ensuing decades, it has become administrative offices. The same may be said of the UCF building in the old Carey-Hand Funeral Home on Pine St. We know, of course, that UCF all but dropped out of the UCF project, for reasons on which Mike Thomas and I disagree somewhat (a topic for another day), and while the old Expo Center is hosting the digital media school, we've already seen the plan to convert the Sheraton/Marriott/Omni to student housing pretty much nixed. With the "Creative Village coming, will that change? Given the fateful decision by UCF to reorient its focus on campus, you may color me skeptical.

(3) Like other lessees, I am firmly convinced major retail will not choose to relocate in the Historic Core. It's too much easier to start from scratch elesewhere and most retail has no reason to tie itself to old buildings.

So, is all lost? I don't think so and I'll be getting back to discuss what i have in mind a little later.

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This is going to take a while to flesh out and I hope some of the fine posters will help to fill in some of the blanks and bits of history as I don't always have the ability to go back and do the complete research on the first pass of some of these items (if only SOMEONE would digitize the Orlando Sentinel - I think I'd even be willing to pay for access rather than having to go through the creaky old microfiche at OPL.)

Anyway, I've been spending a bit of time in the old Orange Ave. Historic District running roughly from Jefferson St. down to Church St. One of the first thinkgs I've noticed is the DDB or CRA or City, whoever is in charge of paying the "Clean Team," has been doing less and less of it lately. Now I'm assuming the budget cuts during the recession had a god bit to do with that, as they did with Eola Park until recently (and now Buddy's been going whole hog over there so I'm ever hopeful), but with each passing year it just looks seedier and seedier. Now there are some cities where that might not matter, but I admit that one thing you could say about Orlando all these years was that outside the totally blighted areas things were always keep tidy. It's one reason we pay more to live in the City than in the unincorporated county (I'm planning to address that issue in another post - it seems so many of these issues run together and it's hard to tie all the strands together.)

I have concluded a few things based on watching the area since the Streetscape project got underway in the early 1980's, and we've watched downtown boom in some areas while others seem to be languishing.

(1) Based on the "For Lease" signs on the older, historic buildings downtown (and Jack, is there a way to get reliable numbers on occupancy for these buildings vs. downtown generally- it really would be nice to know,) it seems that there is a limited demand for boutique office space among the firms (lawyers, accountants, etc.) who are the source of downtown's leasing market. And it's not just the private sector - where once the Supervisor of Elections used the building at 1 N. Orange (and it was later used by the FAMU Law School until they built their own building over by I4), Bill Cowles and his group have long since headed for the hinterlands of Kaley St., for easier access, parking and the like. The main tag office isn't downtown and, in addition to the various county offices along South St. in the old CNL buildings, such things as the sheriff, corrections, public works, etc. have all gone to the 'burbs.

(2) Please feel free to tell me "I told you so" if I'm wrong, but based on past performance, I truly do not expect Valencia or UCF to have a significant downtown presence. When Valencia originally purchased the old First National Bank building on Orange at Church, they talked of making it a downtown "campus." Mostly, in the ensuing decades, it has become administrative offices. The same may be said of the UCF building in the old Carey-Hand Funeral Home on Pine St. We know, of course, that UCF all but dropped out of the UCF project, for reasons on which Mike Thomas and I disagree somewhat (a topic for another day), and while the old Expo Center is hosting the digital media school, we've already seen the plan to convert the Sheraton/Marriott/Omni to student housing pretty much nixed. With the "Creative Village coming, will that change? Given the fateful decision by UCF to reorient its focus on campus, you may color me skeptical.

(3) Like other lessees, I am firmly convinced major retail will not choose to relocate in the Historic Core. It's too much easier to start from scratch elesewhere and most retail has no reason to tie itself to old buildings.

So, is all lost? I don't think so and I'll be getting back to discuss what i have in mind a little later.

The CRA is in charge of the Clean Team. At the height of the boom, the CRA was bringing in close to $26 million annually. Now it is below $20 million. They have either held the line or decreased funding for those services. Unfortunately and fortunately, I think there are more people downtown now than ever before except maybe during the Church St boom times. The arena alone increased the number of people downtown. More demand for services, less money to spend.

1.

It does seem as older buildings are more difficult to lease. Part of the reason is the lack of attached parking. Also, many of the interiors are in bad shape. Typically, creative firms with younger employees are more willing to located in one of our historic buildings. They provide cool spaces and are cheaper than one of the towers. But now, lease rates in the towers are closer in price. The firms that were in those spaces traditionally are smaller companies and were probably a victim to the economy. Class A buildings are filled with banks and law firms that traditionally can make it through rough times.

2.

Valencia, I do not see it. UCF has a nice presence at the Ying building. The master's program are the only classes that are held there. Most likley to students that already work downtown. Beyond teh Ying building, if Creative Village works out, there may be a small increase in students, but nothing to really impact downtown.

3.

I am not counting on major retailers until our population increases. But they will come if they can make money.

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UCF shouldn't move downtown just for the sake of moving downtown. I think they could move a portion of their business school downtown and do pretty well. Very similar to how the hospitality school moved to I-Drive, it makes sense to put a business school in the CBD.

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1) First off, I think it's irresponsible for bigger businesses with money to move to the suburbs. I know that's a little extreme, but with all the empty lots in and around downtown I get annoyed when new office space is built on the premise of "let's see how big our building's footprint and parking lots can be to save a few dollars." It's not only environmentally unsound, but also deliberately anti-community. But that's a rant for another day...

As far as the old buildings go, I would like to see some converted to apartments or condos. This shouldn't be too hard considering a few, like the Angebilt, were originally hotels. Like I said in another post, there are plenty of people who wouldn't mind old apartments or studios with character, even if they aren't "luxurious." The China Glass Lofts seem to be a big hit (all 18 units are occupied).

2) I agree with what others have said, that the UCF business school should move to downtown. I think we'll be seeing a lot more classes, and therefore students, downtown once Creative Village gets going. According to the plans, there will be more higher education buildings and plenty of office/creative. Hopefully the "creative" part of that will tie in with regional schools. Also, it's been mentioned on here and in some older conceptual plans I've seen that after SunRail we'll need an East-West route of some sort. That should tie in the UCF-area (and hopefully a stop around Valencia) with downtown.

3) The general consensus is that it'll be a long time before we see large amounts of retail downtown. I would almost say never, just because of all the malls to the south and east of downtown. At the same time, Winter Park defies this. Even after Winter Park Village opened, Park Ave remains very busy - and retailers don't mind moving into old buildings there. In fact, they've found their (historic) style and they're sticking with it, even in new construction. If we get enough people downtown and have a couple stretches as nice as Park Ave, we should do well.

And not that I'm advocating these chains necessarily, but in European cities (and larger US cities) it's normal for stores like McDonald's, Burger King, Starbucks, H&M, bookstores, etc. to take over big historic buildings. And from what I've seen, they do a good job preserving them.

Right now Downtown reminds me of part Winter Park and part Miami. I think if we take a hint from Winter Park, and just say "hey, traditional styles are part of our look" for some of the new construction, then real historic buildings will easily remain trendy. At the same time, I think we should step up the South Beach feel (like in the Paramount and other white buildings in South Eola did) and not forget the ultra-modern glass look. We're in Central Florida, one of the few places in the country where we can easily get away with all these styles, and we should use this to our advantage.

===================================

Just in case anyone's curious, I wanted to share some links that I thought of while reading these posts:

- Orlando has six designated historic districts which are managed by the Historic Preservation Board.

- More on the Downtown Historic District, including information on tax incentives and ordinances.

- Downtown Orlando's website has a listing of available office space, including some historic buildings like the Angebilt.

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Why are you saying that it needs saving in the first place? Agreed it may need a little cleaning, but not sure it is in a bad spot right now. Most of what you mentioned as moving out is not really a bad thing - those don't really attract much city life, just a lot of people in need of services. They come, get what they need, and leave. I also question whether downtown needs big retail or not - I think more small scale retail, galleries, and dining and offices are what they need now. Hopefully the people who own these buildings will at some point decide to bring rents down to where the creative but not necessarily yet profitable idea people can afford them instead of knocking down buildings or redoing them into fancy new office space or luxury condos for which there isnt enough market yet.

It goes through a cycle, and I think it still needs a little more time. It's time know to think of how to "seed" a creative environment. I am much less hip on a business school than something that deals with some kind of arts (again, Valencia would be the obvious choice but I know how CCs work). You need an obvious draw that will bring creative people downtown, and ways to keep them there.

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I believe Stetson chose their Stetson Center at Celebration because they were originally involved in the Celebration School design and had ties to the location, however, I've long thought that a Stetson Center Downtown would serve both the needs of the Orlando community and Stetson's desires to increase enrollment. A downtown center focused on business adminstration, criminal justice, and some of Stetson's other proclaimed programs (perhaps even Law) seem like a natural fit.

Also, I believe that at some point in the future Valencia will expand their downtown presence. It will not occur until there is a sustaining population within downtown and environs. Valencia is not a trailblazer, they follow the needs to the growing communities they serve. This is why Osceola is their fastest growing campus.

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I work for a community college myself. Like Valencia, we explore sub-campuses to house programs. To be honest, they are rarely huge operations - usually only a handful of classes ever really take place there. And like Orlando, we often times work to bring new campuses to needed areas. We in fact are constantly exploring opportunities to bring our classes to downtown locations to better serve our students - after all, community colleges are there to provide a public service.

There are some issues that often times get overlooked by the public, though, and even many people employed by the schools. Many people think Community Colleges are a cash cow, with lots of money to spend. This is even worse with developers - they think they can ask for some of the highest rents they can. The fact is that most of these kinds of ventures don't have enough funding to begin with - they simply cant find suitable space that they can afford. And when they do find space at all, all the money goes into rent and upkeep, and there is no money left to fund the programs themselves. You also have to look at what is needed, not just what would be nice. Community colleges are most in need of providing basic classes - ESL, fundamental math and English, basic computer skills. They don't have the resources to provide adventurous programs by themselves.

That last part is the key. Community Colleges are good at being a bridge between the business community and the public. What you need to find are people with ideas, businesses with the interests to fund those classes and space, and a willing local government willing to work with the school and local property owners to find suitable space. Alas build it they will come doesn't work with schools. But if you can find something people are interested in and the space and funds, the college can put together the program and the faculty to teach it.

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I read through that "Creative Village" presentation and got myself all worked up again. Can't they think of anything outside of a development?

In any case, one thing I hate is how they want to tear down the old Amway Center. What would it take, how could you turn that into a museum. I am thinking a museum dedicated to animation, concept art, anime, art film, etc. It seems to me that is a perfect setup to have several screening rooms using the natural stadium seating. It's a huge building, I know - but I how else could you fill it? And how could you get some funding to go ahead with such a project?

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I read through that "Creative Village" presentation and got myself all worked up again. Can't they think of anything outside of a development?

In any case, one thing I hate is how they want to tear down the old Amway Center. What would it take, how could you turn that into a museum. I am thinking a museum dedicated to animation, concept art, anime, art film, etc. It seems to me that is a perfect setup to have several screening rooms using the natural stadium seating. It's a huge building, I know - but I how else could you fill it? And how could you get some funding to go ahead with such a project?

Tear off the roof. Giant swimming pool. Let's do it.

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I am actually being serious about this.

If there is one thing that Orlando can do that no other place in the world can, even Las Vegas, is let their imagination run. Even Vegas has a hard time pretending, they have to do it in a kind of over the top way so that no one really takes it seriously. Orlando is different - it is built on imagination - the imaginary world. You have it in the theme parks, the restaurants - you also have it in the growing film industry, the animation and game design programs, the marketing companies. Problem is Orlando is a bit self conscious about it - need to keep that kind fo stuff down south for the tourists. Keep it just marketing - don't let it get under your skin.

There may be small museums dedicated to this stuff, but no where, that I know of, is there a place that documents and celebrates that culture. Everyone talks about a creative village - this is what creativity is, folks. This is your seed to get things started. It's a golden opportunity - don't just make a tourist attraction - make a legitimate home for the imagination that doesn't have to be some high-brow artsy sub culture. Not only show off collections, but have a revolving show of stuff that only a animation junkie or video game connoisseur would even know about. The key to a creative village isn't the the zoning laws - it's building up a creative and inspirational environment. Here's where you can start.

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I read through that "Creative Village" presentation and got myself all worked up again. Can't they think of anything outside of a development?

In any case, one thing I hate is how they want to tear down the old Amway Center. What would it take, how could you turn that into a museum. I am thinking a museum dedicated to animation, concept art, anime, art film, etc. It seems to me that is a perfect setup to have several screening rooms using the natural stadium seating. It's a huge building, I know - but I how else could you fill it? And how could you get some funding to go ahead with such a project?

You looked at the plans for the creative village, yet you still want to keep the old arena? lol It's not like it's some historical building that needs to be saved or anything...;)

But I'm not necessarily an advocate of skyscrapers either. The whole point of rezoning Parramore is so that future land use will mesh well with the existing residential neighborhoods (i.e. Lake Dot). I'm not sure if how erecting tall buildings will affect the community; they should definitely have some say. There are some great people who choose to live in Parramore, and they deserve a true revitalization of that area. Those folks have weathered the worst forms of criminal abuse and city negligence yet have managed to turn that part of Parramore around. If you ever get bored, drive down Arlington, Concord and Lake Dot Cir within Westmoreland Dr and Parramore Ave - the area has made huge improvements over the years.

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Kinda hoped we could jump a few steps. Same pattern as many other cities went through 15 years ago. First it's erection envy - got have a building boom no matter what. Then it's how high the skyscrapers go. Then when they discover that didn't work, clean out all the old stuff and build new buildings. only that is too sterile. The it's on to tax breaks for restaurants and clubs, which goes nowhere fast as there is no market for them so they die. Then someone gets the idea for a pedestrian street, which drives away even more people.

Somewhere along the way a few really creative people come up with an idea - instead of tearing down the old, come up with a creative reuse. That inspires someone else to do the same. It takes off, you get creative people doing creative things, and then suddenly someone realizes - hey - you now have a creative environment!

The Arena is probably not the best thing to start with, but it is what you got. So use it. You just cant build creativity new. You can build cool, but cool is not the same as creative. So instead of tearing down the arena, find a new creative reuse for it.

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You could change the roof into something translucent or transparent and turn it into a massive greenhouse and hydroponic grow house for fruits and vegetables similar to what is done on a very small scale down at Epcot Center at the Kraft pavilion. The cost wouldn't be too high to modify the roof. I can't imaging running irrigation would be much compared to erecting skyscrapers. Sell the seats to Magic fans creating revenue. You wouldn't need air conditioning which would lower costs or at least you could minimalize it to outer rooms and offices. Locals of Parramore could work the greenhouse alongside UCF or UF agriculture professors. You could turn the barren wasteland of parking lots into a large solar array and create electricity providing more income... or lowering the cost of electricity for the residents of the Parramore district. You could use UCF students, graduates, or faculty members to run the solar energy plant and they would get practical application and could try to further studies in this capacity. You would have a product to sell (produce and electricity) as well as charge admission for a one of a kind environment. It would be another place for young students to go on field trips to learn about science improving the area's ability to educate the masses.

Just a thought. It's not what developers have in mind, but it could work. I like where cloudship is going... obviously or I wouldn't have thought of something outside the box (arena).

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On one hand, I totally agree with re-purposing buildings into something new. It does add more character and creativity. At the same time, I also agree that the Arena isn't a beautiful historic building or even an interesting industrial space. I think it's too big, too dated (or wrongly dated), and too poorly placed to integrate with the surrounding community. Plus, what museum can afford the $750 thousand or whatever in yearly property tax, as well as an even larger makeover than the Citrus Bowl (which we know isn't going so well)?

If I had the choice of adding thousands of citizens to downtown, along with high-paying jobs and educational facilities, or trying to fund what would most likely be another DPAC funding disaster, I would have to go Creative Village. Like I said before, nobody's talking about the "starving artist" - conceptual artists or performers - creative type, but high-tech creative. Video game designers, graphic artists, and simulation developers would love to live in a shiny new high-tech city.

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...too poorly placed to integrate with the surrounding community.

That's what I've always disliked about the old Amway. It's surrounded by a sea of parking lots, fountains, plazas, etc. And then when you finally get to the entrance, you've got to climb up a bunch of steps. Incredibly pedestrian unfriendly.

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Save the arena and kill DPAC. It is one or the other. The City needs to sell the property for $90 million. That money is designated for DPAC.

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I've had a lot of great memories in that arena but I have no idea why anybody would want to save it. It doesn't have much architectural merit and stands as a symbol of anti-urbanity. Let's raze the sucker already, sell the land to pay for the PAC and let the 'Creative Village' proposals stream in.

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I've had a lot of great memories in that arena but I have no idea why anybody would want to save it. It doesn't have much architectural merit and stands as a symbol of anti-urbanity. Let's raze the sucker already, sell the land to pay for the PAC and let the 'Creative Village' proposals stream in.

I guess that is kinda my point. Tearing down the old arena and putting up a new office building is the complete anti-thesis to a creative village. If the goal is purely to find money for the new DPAC (which I think is going right down the same road) then fine, do that. Don't try to sell it AND create an urban village - you fail on both accounts.

You could change the roof into something translucent or transparent and turn it into a massive greenhouse and hydroponic grow house for fruits and vegetables similar to what is done on a very small scale down at Epcot Center at the Kraft pavilion. The cost wouldn't be too high to modify the roof. I can't imaging running irrigation would be much compared to erecting skyscrapers. Sell the seats to Magic fans creating revenue. You wouldn't need air conditioning which would lower costs or at least you could minimalize it to outer rooms and offices. Locals of Parramore could work the greenhouse alongside UCF or UF agriculture professors. You could turn the barren wasteland of parking lots into a large solar array and create electricity providing more income... or lowering the cost of electricity for the residents of the Parramore district. You could use UCF students, graduates, or faculty members to run the solar energy plant and they would get practical application and could try to further studies in this capacity. You would have a product to sell (produce and electricity) as well as charge admission for a one of a kind environment. It would be another place for young students to go on field trips to learn about science improving the area's ability to educate the masses.

Just a thought. It's not what developers have in mind, but it could work. I like where cloudship is going... obviously or I wouldn't have thought of something outside the box (arena).

Never thought of that one! There is a new trend, and hopefully growing industry, called vertical farming. This wouldn't quite be that, and I don't know what the structural issues would be, but this sounds like a great lab for someone like UCF or UF to start exploring the role of vertical farming. Heck, perhaps this could lead to Orlando being a leader in that field.

Baring that, perhaps just remove the roof altogether. Turn it into a kind of hanging gardens type of development. That doesn't necessarily address why people would want to come there, but perhaps that is a start.

On one hand, I totally agree with re-purposing buildings into something new. It does add more character and creativity. At the same time, I also agree that the Arena isn't a beautiful historic building or even an interesting industrial space. I think it's too big, too dated (or wrongly dated), and too poorly placed to integrate with the surrounding community. Plus, what museum can afford the $750 thousand or whatever in yearly property tax, as well as an even larger makeover than the Citrus Bowl (which we know isn't going so well)?

If I had the choice of adding thousands of citizens to downtown, along with high-paying jobs and educational facilities, or trying to fund what would most likely be another DPAC funding disaster, I would have to go Creative Village. Like I said before, nobody's talking about the "starving artist" - conceptual artists or performers - creative type, but high-tech creative. Video game designers, graphic artists, and simulation developers would love to live in a shiny new high-tech city.

Build it and they will come? That's the whole point. Tearing it down and putting up a new development and office buildings isn't going to magically make residents appear. Heck if that were the case Downtown would already be full of people! If the people are going to be happy working in a look-alike office building, they would just a soon do that in the suburbs. But then again, if that were the case, then they would most likely not be "Creative" anyways. This destruction and rebuilding path to me sounds like the same old story you hear from other small cities around the country that label a new development a "arts district" and then watch the buildings sit empty for years.

One other thing that worries me is there is so much worry about the look of the building - that it is not shiny new or grand and historic. That's the big advantage - it's flexible. You don't have to worry about destroying history, you aren't worried about being trendy. You are given a nice chunk of raw potential. Don't just recreate a stadium. Create something brand new with it.

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