ORLANDO, Fla. - These are very eventful days, with the the Kings arena situation being dumped right into the middle of the All-Star Game festivities.
As I write in a column in today's Bee, Orlando is a hive of activity. The airport has been jammed these past few days into the wee hours. The rental car agencies are slammed (trust me). And the people who facilitated the city/county/Magic partnership that led to construction of the $380 million Amway Center - the downtown arena that is the gold standard for all new buildings - are everywhere. I was at Jam Session Thursday at the Orange County Convention Center, mainly to harass David Stern about Sacramento's latest arena developments, and Orlando city mayor Buddy Byer and Orange County mayor Teresa Jacobs were nearby, and they could not stop grinning.
By the way: The sentiment among the national media here is very pro-Sacramento, despite reports about persistent overtures from folks in Anaheim and potential threats from Seattle and darkhorse candidate Vancouver. The Canadian city's failure to support the Grizzlies led to the team's relocation to Memphis, but potential owners and investors continue to pester the league, and the large Asian population appeals to Stern's desire to expand its brand. Plus - and this is a big plus - Vancouver has a modern arena, unlike Seattle or Sacramento. These days, when the revenue streams from club suites, sponsorships, and amenities/concessions allay operating costs and account for a large percentage of income, it's all about the buildings.
Here are a few other observations, notes, etc., as the weekend approaches:
Magic official Alex Martins, who rose from the ranks of assistant publicist when the city was granted an expansion team in 1988 to team president and CEO (and the guy who oversaw the resurrection of arena negotiations), is heading the team's feasibility study into a $100 million development project near the downtown Amway Center. Except for the Church Street entertainment corridor, the neighborhing area is economically depressed. The project would include restaurants, retail and housing, and attempt to revitalize this portion of the urban core. If the development would occur, it would enable the Magic to relocate the majority of its employees to its downtown facility.
Allen Johnson, executive director of the city's Venues Department, had some interesting things to say about Amway Center's parking and the impact on traffic flow. There are 2,100 parking spots in the Geico Garage located adjacent to the arena, but most of the available slots are located within a 10-minute or so walking distance. While some people argue that a lack of surface parking is a major negative of downtown arenas, Johnson is convinced the dispersed parking has major advantages in terms of traffice flow.
"I would never, ever be involved with building another venue that has surface parking in a downtown core because it's a terrible use of land," he said. "What we always understood is that people leave an event at the same time, but we didn't count on the fact that because they were walking two, three blocks, it would actually be helping traffic flow. It also helps that people are walking by the businesses on Church Street."
Martins is among those who believe the quality of Amway Center enables the arena managers to lure top touring groups and artists. "There is absolutely no chance that Andrea Bocelli would have played at the old building," said Martins. "It just did not have the acoustical advantages of the new building. Everybody was just amazed at at his performance (Feb. 12)."
The Amway Center is owned and operated by the city of Orlando, but Magic owner Rich DeVos - a billionaire, by the way - was pressured into making a substantial contribution for construction of the $380 million facility. After low-balling the city and county, which secured a one cent increase in tourism taxes, he agreed to a provide $50 million toward construction, another $25 million toward the financing of area gyms, assumed the risk of cost overrides, and backed the public bonds.
So, on a final note, Jeremy Lin is a local sensation here, too. He arrives Friday and is scheduled for several appearances.