After spending a few hours watching the mayor's Downtown Strategic Transition Team plod through the business of how to revitalize downtown, I've decided that I would rather be a hot-tar roofer in hell than have to sit on one of these committees. Not that anyone would ask, but pre-emptively, no thanks.
There is simply too much time wasted on picayune nonsense. Example: A recent meeting of the Arts, Entertainment & Sports Subcommittee during which members spent the better part of an hour fussing over their mission statement. Is the word "enhance" inclusive enough, or is "sustain" the superior verb? Should the committee include keeping the Magic playing downtown as part of its strategy (duh), and if so, should it specifically name the team, or go with a generic reference like "professional sports" in the event the Magic snubs us? And so on and on and on. You can literally feel your life ebbing away.
If the goal is to create a downtown that doesn't suck, and underneath the verbiage I think it is, then all this folderol could easily be boiled down to a one recommendation: Make downtown a place for adults, especially those that live in greater Orlando. The bodies CityWalk and Downtown Disney stole away are gone forever, and good riddance anyway. Most of them are from Des Moines and Schenectady and Poughkeepsie and aren't worth chasing. Put in a performing arts center and they'd demand Raffi concerts, or something equally vile, and then stay away in droves.
How to attract local adults to downtown? Easy. Stretch bar hours to 6 a.m., allow open liquor containers in the streets and relax adult-entertainment regulations. Allow me to quote downtown gadfly David Van Gelder, who has an unnerving habit of referring to himself in the third person but, on the other hand, claims to attend every single meeting of the Downtown Development Board, and he owns a lot of property in Parramore: "The best thing they could ever put downtown would be a titty bar. That is something Disney will never do. You can almost evaluate a city by its adult-entertainment regulations. Tampa, for example, is a very progressive city and it's wide open."
Stretching drinking hours downtown is actually one of the things the downtown transition team is studying. Had Buddy Dyer done it the moment he took office, it would have been hailed as a symbolic end of the repressive Hood era, the local equivalent of repealing the 18th Amendment. So he missed a great photo op; at least the idea is on the table. (And by the way the argument that late drinking hours conflict with early church-going hours never made sense. What better time to help someone find Jesus then when they are too sozzled to stand up?) So is the creation of a downtown entertainment district wherein patrons could conceivably travel from bar-to-bar bearing libations. Shocking, but there it is.
It's the adult-entertainment issue that Orlando will never tackle, because Orlando is still a provincial little town that desperately needs to come to grips with the fact that not everyone is looking for wholesome, family entertainment. Not that making downtown a red-light-district is a good idea, though that might be fun for a bit. But it is time to revisit the county's adult-entertainment ordinance, the only purpose of which seems to be to confuse the issue and make it impossible to get a license to put adult businesses anywhere. That results in agencies like the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation spending ridiculous amounts of time and money on their undercover work, the result of which almost never leads to anything much.
Case in point: Rachel's nightclub. Once again the MBI put on a money pit of an investigation, only to have the statewide prosecutor drop all charges against the object of their scrutiny -- Jim Veigle -- in exchange for a slap on the wrist in the form of a $620,000 fine.
Add Rachel's to the long list of MBI failures, and the mounting evidence that Orlando needs to grow up.
Being a humble and honorable scribe has its drawbacks. Modesty and the call to plain dealing prevents me from, for example, crowing about the fact that Lou Pearlman's dirty business practices have finally become of some interest to the Orlando media at large nine months after they were first noted in these pages. Welcome aboard folks, glad to have you along.
Nonetheless, a bet is a bet and someone owes me a beer. Here's what I wrote about Pearlman's Church Street plans back in February:
"I'm so sure that Lou Pearlman's plan to redevelop Church Street Station is going nowhere that I'm going to make a little wager: If Pearlman and his partner Robert Kling actually move Pearlman's Trans Continental empire to Church Street, I will purchase, with my own money, a copy of every 'N Sync CD ever released. And then I'll listen to them. Back to back. Without a pause. Without cotton in my ears. Without grimacing, groaning or guffawing."
And if they don't, someone buys the suds. Pearlman announced July 12 that his plans are "on hold," which is code for "scotched." I'm willing to wait until the deal crumbles completely, but I am getting powerful thirsty.
"The president said the decision [to invade Iraq] was made after he gave Saddam Hussein 'a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.'"
Washington Post, July 15
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