ORLANDO – Stepping onto the stage in the Amway Center, Mayor Buddy Dyer reflected on just how much had changed in the City Beautiful since 2003, the first year he delivered a State of Downtown address, and at a time when Orlando was about to ride a wave known as the housing market boom.
“Nine years ago this month, I gave my first State of the City address,” Dyer said, to a packed house seated inside the Amway arena. “Much has happened in those nine years, both positive and negative.”
The city would see its unemployment rate fall to 3 percent as the housing market soared, and then rise perilously into double digits once the housing market crashed and the national recession set in.
But as the mayor began his State of Downtown address for 2012, he noted that Orlando had not just survived the devastating impact of the recession, but was also thriving in a way that many other cities across the nation would be envious of. Quite simply, the mayor said, city residents were looking at a remarkable turnaround, particularly in the downtown area, which he said was undergoing a genuine renaissance.
“Today, four years after the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression, our downtown remains the economic engine for all of Central Florida,” Dyer said.
The mayor’s speech attracted a huge crowd inside the Amway Center, including a number of prominent local employers that purchased tables for the breakfast event, including Walt Disney World, People’s Gas Co., Orlando Health, and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, among many others.
The event was sponsored by the Downtown Orlando Partnership, and several of the speakers who preceded the mayor noted that Downtown Orlando truly was experiencing a dramatic shift in economic fortunes, with new development coming in, the growth of the city’s arts community, and the construction of new transportation options like the SunRail commuter rail line.
“All of us are proud of our home town and proud of our mayor, Buddy Dyer,” said Gary Kreisler, executive sales senior EES at Siemens. “I’m glad we have a mayor who can balance the budget even in the toughest of times.”
“Downtown Orlando has weathered the storm of the economic recession,” noted Thomas Chatmon, executive director of the Downtown Development Board and Community Redevelopment Agency. “This did not come along from happenstance. The history and renaissance of our downtown is owed to a master crafter of economic development.”
Dyer noted that the city had a lot to be proud of as it pulls out of the recession.
“As the recession has gone on, we’ve learned to measure progress differently,” Dyer said. “We’ve had to focus on steady, but important gains and long term investments in our future.”
Signs of progress, the mayor added, are everywhere. As Dyer noted, more than 100 new businesses have opened in the city in the past year, while office occupancy is up and retail space occupancy and residential apartments are 97 percent full.
“There are seven major projects underway that represent an $800 million investment in downtown,” Dyer said. “These projects will add another 650 residential units and 119 hotel rooms. Ten more projects are in the works that represent an additional $1.1 billion investment.”
The state is now moving forward with construction on the 61-mile long SunRail light rail line, and downtown Orlando will host four stops.
“Fifteen months from now, we will be able to board a train that connects our communities in the city of Orlando, Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties,” the mayor said. “SunRail will take cars off of our roadways and generate 250,000 jobs and an $8 billion economic impact over the next 30 years.”
Later that afternoon, Dyer also broke ground on Skyhouse, the first major residential high rise to get constructed in the city since the recession hit in 2008, “another important sign that the tide is finally turning for our local economy and housing market,” he noted. “We have accomplished much in less than a decade, breathing life back into a downtown that was called a ‘ghost town’ as recently as 2004.”
There are still challenges ahead. The unemployment rate in Orlando peaked in January 2010 at 11.5 percent, and had fallen to 8.6 percent in July – lower than the state average of 8.8 percent, but higher than the national average of 8.1 percent.
Dyer said he’s well aware there’s more work to be done revitalizing the entire city.
“As we celebrate what we’ve done to create a thriving nightlife scene and attract new residents and businesses, we also recognize that we have more work to do,” he said. “The top of our list of priorities includes taking steps to attract more families and continuing to provide more shopping and dining amenities for people of all ages.”
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