ORLANDO – From the seventh floor overlook room at the Dr. Phillips Center, a simple phone call from Jim Pugh got the ball rolling.
“You’ve got an audience of a lot of people who are very anxious to tear that building down,” said Pugh, the chairman of the board of directors for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
The call, to the construction crew waiting below, sent the signal to demolish the former First United Methodist Church annex building down below, which is the future site of a multi-form, acoustical theater. That was when a crane moved in on that annex building, starting the slow process or tearing it apart, piece by piece.
From the overlook room, a huge crowd of news cameras, journalists and city officials, including Mayor Buddy Dyer, watched the construction work begin, marking the start of what is expected to be a clearing of the way for the entire Performing Arts center project to finally get completed.
“We bought this building from the First United Methodist Church,” Pugh said. And now, he said, thanks to a proposal on funding from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Dyer, “The city money will be there,” Pugh added.
A year after breaking ground on the project at 455 S. Orange Ave., across the street from City Hall, Dyer said the project was hitting a new milestone with the demolition of the annex building, since it signals the commitment to complete this project. The theater will be the new performance hall for the Orlando Ballet and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.
“It’s really hard to believe it’s been a year since we kicked off construction of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts,” Dyer said. “But one thing hasn’t changed, and that is rain.”
But the lingering showers brought on by Tropical Storm Debby didn’t do much to dampen the mood inside the overlook room, where the Center’s board of directors said they were enthusiastic to push forward on a project that’s been slowed down by the weakened economy.
Earlier this week, Dyer and Jacobs signed a deal to start the renovation of the Citrus Bowl in 2014, and to announce that construction on the Citrus Bowl and Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts will be done at the same time, financed using tourist development tax money.
“Today is a great day for recognizing the full construction,” Dyer said, adding that the city has made a pledge to use tourist development tax dollars to help build this project.
“Likewise, we will find a source of city credit so we can build the second phase of the project,” he said.
Kathy Ramsberger, the president of the Dr. Phillips Center, said the agreement clears the way for construction to continue.
“This has taken a lot of work, obviously, from day one,” she said. “What we’ve had a tough time with is how are we going to get phase two built. But today is the last day we will talk about phase one and two. Now it’s one project. And we’re committed to this project.”
In addition to the tourist development tax dollars, Ramsberger said the board would continue raising private funds to get this project completed.
“We know that there’s a lot more money out there,” said. “Our new goal is to raise another $75 million.”
To make that happen, “We’ve increased and dedicated more resources to our entire fund-raising team.”
And despite the delays in keeping the construction work on schedule, Ramsberger said no one should doubt the project’s viability now.
“Today is a great day for all of us,” she said. “Hard projects are rewarding because they are hard.”
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