HAPPYTOWN 


;"We're doing them all. We're doing them now. We're doing them right."

;;So read the placard sitting behind the beaming Mayors Crotty and Dyer as they announced a just-struck deal Sept. 29 to bring a performing arts center and new arena downtown, and to renovate the decrepit Citrus Bowl. "This is a red-letter day," Dyer told the assembled. "History is being made, folks. Hold on to your hats."

;;And we finally got some details about how this will shake out. Believe it or not, the Magic are going to kick in some bucks: $100 million in cash and operating expenses. The Magic are also going to underwrite another $100 million loan the city is making, a pretty low-risk venture. As a bonus gesture, the DeVos family offered the performing arts center a $10 million gift. What a guy.

;The arena is a $485 million project (once you count land costs), so that means the Magic are ponying up a little more than 20 percent. The city secured a contract to purchase land off West Church Street for the arena Sept. 27 for an estimated $35.5 million. The city wouldn't hand over a copy of that contract by press time, citing a confidentiality clause. The deal goes to the city council for ratification Oct. 16, she says.

;;The Citrus Bowl's price tag has dropped considerably, as everyone expected. It's down to $175 million from $252 million just a month ago (guess they did away with the back-massaging chairs). The performing arts center's price is up a bit, to $389 million from $376 million last time we checked.

;;The county got what it wanted: no risk, except for the tourism tax money already earmarked for the arena. And the city got what it wanted: three downtown projects, and an agreement to extend the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency out to the Citrus Bowl. The CRA is a taxing agency that sucks up property taxes that would otherwise go to city and county general funds. The city council, however, controls how that money is spent. The county gets no say. And that upsets county types. Now that the CRA zone is expanding, you can expect some pushback from the county commission.

;;As is usually the case, not everyone's happy about the deal. "Can you do a story on what bullshit this is?" a county source asked us after the press conference broke up. "They get half of our [tourist taxes], but we don't get half of their CRA."

;;And remember: This deal relies heavily on tourist taxes. Any vote on tourist tax money has to pass the county commission with a super-majority, or a 5-2 vote. If there are three dissenters, this plan has problems.

;;Finally, it would be uncharacteristic of us not to mention that Dyer once again used his favorite misquote at the presser: "As I have said many times, in many places across our city and as I have reminded our staff time and time again, ‘Happy are those who dream dreams and have the courage to make them come true.'"

;;A sweet sentiment, if not terribly accurate. As our crack copy editrix noted the first time Dyer used it, the real quote, from Cardinal Leo J. Suenens, former Archbishop of Brussels, is: "Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true." Interesting how Dyer forgot the part about "paying the price," no?

;;

;And now it's time for another installment of What's Up With Ric?™, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite Congressman, U.S. Rep. Ric Keller!

;;This week's episode finds Ric once again voting with the pack to tear into those God-haters at the ACLU. Keller and his House Republican brethren passed HR 2679, otherwise known as the Veterans' Memorial, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2006. Dreamt up by religious zealots tired of seeing the ACLU successfully sue governments that overstep those annoying constitutional church-state separation requirements, this bill would forbid any group that files lawsuits based on the "establishment of religion" clause in the First Amendment — the one the founders didn't really mean — from collecting attorneys' fees for their work. According to the bill, the ACLU "extorts money" from local governments with these lawsuits, and that has to stop.

;;Conservatives say the ACLU scours the country to find public displays that could be in violation of the Establishment Clause, then sues the municipalities for big bucks that erected them. It's a nice little cottage industry.

;;Liberals say the desired result, should this thing pass the Senate, is to stanch the ACLU's cash flow so the township of Jesusland, Ala., will be free to place crosses and Bible verses everywhere.

;;And what do we say? Thanks, Ric, for standing up for the Lord!

;;

;Remember Peggy Handley, aka Universal Orlando's nemesis? We wrote a story about her one-woman crusade to get the theme park to be more careful about where debris from its fireworks display lands back in May ["Is the sky falling?"]. Shortly after it ran we got a call from a producer at National Public Radio interested in the story. He's been out taping the noise at Handley's house and noting when and where debris falls during fireworks shows, so Universal might soon find sensibly shod citizens politely requesting that they stop raining burning paper on this poor woman's house.

;;To date, Handley's protestations have been for naught; Universal maintains that it is complying with all applicable regulations, and the Orlando Fire Department agrees. But Handley sees a chink in that armor with the appointment of a new fire chief, Jim Reynolds, with whom she is trying to meet. Handley thinks that a new fire chief might see things her way. (Reynolds' office did not return calls.)

;

;Short of that, her plan is to continue to be a pain in Universal's ass. "They think I'm going to go away. But guess what? I'm not."

;;

;The Students for a Democratic Society continue on their contrarian quest to make the University of Central Florida establishment shift nervously in their leather chairs (hell, the university hasn't even officially recognized them yet, but that's another story). At noon Oct. 5, the SDS will gather at the student union, paint their hands red (!) and march down to Millican Hall to deliver a letter to President John Hitt. A draft of that letter (they were still working on it as of press time) slams the university for having its hands dirty (or red) with financial ties to Siemens Corp. (in bed with Sudan's Khartoum regime), Harris Corp. (NSA supporters) and Coca-Cola (anti-environmentalists), and in a calm tone suggests that, as students, they are an important part of the university as well, and should have a say in making positive change.

;

;"Let us wash our hands together, President Hitt," the note closes, "and plan for an Orlando that future generations would like to inherit."

;

;White miniskirts with red handprints on the back of them are not expected. Awesome, but not expected.

;; This week's column by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes and Bob Whitby.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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