After 20 years of dedicated work and fund-raising by hundreds of arts-lovers who have long realized that Orlando needs and deserves a world-class performing arts center, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced on May 18 that the funding is now in place to break ground on the $274 million Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on June 23. It was the happiest press conference this writer has ever attended.
Surrounded by supportive Orlando City Council members (past and present) and a host of donors, Dyer said: “They have raised more money for this project than any single project in the history of our city. We are going to be able to break ground because of their efforts.”
Citing the fact that revenue from visitor hotel taxes – long counted on to pay for a significant part of the new center – has increased dramatically over the past three months, Dyer also explained a ‘fail-safe provision’ in which arts center donors have signed letters of credit to guarantee funding should those hotel taxes go through another downturn and open a funding gap. But philanthropist Jim Pugh, who has headed up the multi-million dollar fund-raising for the center (and donated $7.5 million of his own), was confident that the taxes will be there and the City will not need the line of credit.
Anyone who has ever attended an event at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center must realize that Orlando may finally lift its head and claim our rightful place among cities that care about the Arts. And after witnessing the tours and artists who have made the new Amway Center such an immediate success, we need to embrace the idea that if we build it, they will come. The new Amway Center could not be a more obvious success metaphor.
The delay in the new arts center was caused by the recent recession in which tourism tax dollars faltered. Those tax dollars were originally counted on to pay for approximately one third of the cost of the center. The good news about Orlando’s tourism recovery has everyone involved in the new center “hopin’ and wishin’ and dreamin’ and prayin’” that $43 million in hotel tax dollars will be available for the new center over the next four years. But with the line of credit from the board of the new center, even if hotel taxes were to falter, Orlando now has Plan B–a $16 million line of credit to assure construction. That plan includes building two of the three performance halls from the original design (a 2,700-seat auditorium and a 300-seat theater for smaller shows by local groups). board members for the new center said that fund-raising for the third hall would begin immediately.
The location of the press conference was significant as well. Held at Orlando’s Blueprint Employment Office, Commissioner Daisy Lynum emphasized the importance of jobs brought to the city through the creation of the new center. Dyer announced that the project would bring over 3,000 new jobs to the city, and Lynum, who was instrumental in assuring that construction jobs for the unemployed, minorities, and women received serious consideration during the construction of the Amway Center, will be doing the same for the new performing arts center. Everyone at the press conference was smiling in ways seldom seen over the last three years, but Daisy Lynum had one of the broadest smiles as she said, “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” and then smiled some more.
Special congratulations to Dyer and Pugh, whose vision, leadership, and unflagging hope will make one more magical dream come true in Orlando.
Josh Garrick covers the Orlando area arts scene for FlaglerLive. Reach him by email here.