COUNCIL WATCH 


This time it was personal as the concerned masses scurried toward the glass doors of City Hall. The usual sense of ruled-by-Roberts was, for a moment, replaced by a chin-up, camera-ready beam reserved for real-estate closings and ribbon-cuttings. There was magic in the air, to be sure.

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; And there was Magic in the elevator, too. Fact fiend Mike Synan of WDBO-AM did the opposite of "cozying up" to hair-product magnate Alex Martins of the Orlando Magic in the difficult leap from floor one to floor two, gripping the binder of venue operational costs beneath his armpit and courting conflict with the hapless COO. At issue was the $25 million lease contribution offered to the Magic over its 25-year stay at the proposed new events center (this in addition to its $50 million upfront cash promise), an amount that – according to Synan – was being shifted around for appearances. Did Martins realize that the amount was being reported twice, despite the fact that this would mean that profits from Rich DeVos' Golden Pleasure Dome™ would need to be siphoned back into the repayment of a $25 million internal city loan? Does a snake this big usually eat its own tail?

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; "Uh," Martins stammered.

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;Regardless, it would be the best of times and the worst of times as the giddy occupants of the dais settled in to claim their triple crown. Most formalities were brushed aside, including the awards segment and any discussion of the entire consent agenda – take that, $40,000 paid to Pyrotecnico for the "Fireworks at the Fountain" – in favor of getting down to the business at hand: a superfluous six-hour exercise that should have been missed to be believed.

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; What is the meaning of life? Venues. Welcome to a very special episode of Council Watch.

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;Item: The city approves agreements for the renovation of the Citrus Bowl, construction of a new events center, construction and operation of a performing arts center and the local economic plan blueprint for the community venue projects.

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;Translation: Nothing's changed. Steve Hogan of Florida Citrus Sports walked the city down the same path of missed sports opportunities and trickling urine troughs at the old Bowl. The interlocal agreement here: $145 million from the Tourist Development Tax, $20 million from Community Redevelopment Agency bonds, and $10 million from "proceeds of the redevelopment of the Centroplex" (read: wishful thinking).

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; Kathy Ramsberger of OPAC quietly announced that there was already $67 million in private donations ready for her shiny acoustics extravaganza, which isn't even almost $379 million, but who's counting?

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; And then there was Martins, who walked the very same "we're paying more than any other sports team" line that he's walked since day one. His hair never moved as he detailed the $50 million (plus the mystery $25 million in rent) the DeVos clan would be scraping from the bullion lint in their pockets.

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; But today wasn't about the numbers, it was about something far deeper … and scarier. Some 71 people, plucked from venue booster clubs about town, were on hand to plead the case of the venue redevelopment. After about three hours of it, one could be forgiven for thinking Joe Public has lost the plot. (After six hours of it, any cautious observer could be forgiven for sawing off his or her own head.)

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; If they weren't there to hawk their own business or life services (contractors, apprentice organizers, Magic employees, activists) then most took their amplified moment to detail their life stories, usually wrapping things up with a bloated statement about how much they deserved three new places to be entertained. One man had just returned from a funeral, so he was sad; that is, until he saw the grandchildren's eyes and the promise of new venues in them. Another speaker's wife had a tumor that was apparently cured by a Magic game.

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; A couple of women resorted to matronly blackmail, suggesting that the lack of venues had left them with empty nests. All that was missing from this Sentinel human-interest story was a 4-inch Chihuahua and an attack squirrel screaming, "Build them now!"

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; The venues will be a path to eternal happiness. Amen.

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; Well, not everyone agreed. Two men took the chance to speak animatedly about just how wrong and how unnecessary this sort of equity gamble really is, even questioning the city's motivations and timing (no applause). One black physician spoke of her clientele in Parramore, suggesting that for them the venues were not quite the beacons of salvation that a little financial assistance might be (nervous applause).

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; In the end, at 8 frickin' p.m., only commissioner Phil Diamond withheld support on the events center and the Citrus Bowl, which probably means he's running for mayor. Meanwhile, the venues still have to clear the county before any holy ground can be broken. The fate of our everlasting souls, sadly, will have to wait.

bmanes@orlandoweekly.com

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