Council Watch

Billy Manes paying attention to local government so you don't have to

It was all wicked child’s play at this week’s quorum of the elected (but somewhat unwanted) toys. There were giggles and snot bubbles and dirty knees and “look at these” moments punctuating glazed-eyed discussions of story times at Leu Gardens, Commissioner Robert Stuart’s macho experience of shooting laser guns with real, live marines at Otronicon, Occupy Orlando members wielding chalk and hopscotch poetry (because chalk writing is illegal) and some nonsense about runaway chickens taking over Parramore. The sky is falling!

“My granddaughter won’t let me not mention this,” Commissioner Stuart demurred. “Pinkalicious is coming.” Oh, it’s already here.

Item: The city approves the director of purchasing to execute a contract with R.E. Johnson & Sons Inc. for the removal, transport and delivery of the train adjacent to the Church Street Station.

Translation: Everything’s changing and we don’t feel the train. Back in the feather-haired days of downtown Orlando’s cultural schizophrenia – you know, when you went to the apothecary for some ointment – entrepreneur Bob Snow envisioned the old Church Street market as an old-timey arcade lined with can-can girls and caricaturists, a slice of cobblestoned reflection cemented in bankable revisionism and bordered by an old locomotive that didn’t go anywhere. Now, because of the new train to nowhere – namely SunRail – the city (via the Florida Department of Transportation) has been tasked with getting rid of the relic to make room for commuter rail to take you, ostensibly, to places that still sell ointments in apothecaries. It’s the circle of life! Anyway, the city went all high-speed (ha!) on the rail deal last month when it realized that it needed the tracks for a SunRail stop and solicited bids on removing the classic train’s four cars. Turns out we’re going to have to pay to get rid of it! R.E. Johnson & Sons picked the shortest of five qualifying straws and will get the contract (which is not to exceed $165,000) to transport the old lady to the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, Fla., that nobody goes to. The company already fronted a $30,000 deposit for the honor, but stands to lose $1,000 per day per car if it fails to meet the out-of-sight-out-of-mind Jan. 31 deadline for removal. Also, the company has agreed to a $5 million insurance policy for each automobile used to transport the train. Meta! Oh, a train in vain.

Item: The city approves BBA U.S. Holdings Inc. for a qualified target-industry tax refund resolution.

Translation: Speaking of transportation, the city and state have pulled out their crocodile-tears kit that they keep in their conjoined overhead departments in order to justify throwing more than $1 million at a company that’s “considering” evacuation to Arizona, Ohio, Washington, D.C., Virginia or that place of dishonesty known as “nowhere.” BBA U.S. Holdings, a manufacturer of aircraft parts and equipment, operates several ancillary companies that, at least according to its website, cater to business travelers in luxury jets who enjoy the finer things in life. The current office has – you know the drill – grown too small, so BBA is looking to spend $3.5 million to build out its global headquarters in that weird glass building across from SunTrust (very near to City Hall, mind) to 53,000 square feet, bringing along with it 100 new jobs over the next three years that should pay $76,928 a year (or twice what you’re making, average person). If the company leaves, so do 195 existing jobs. It’s a real flying pickle. Anyway, the city, through its high-wage/high-value job creation program within the downtown community redevelopment agency tax fund ($150,000 total over six years) and its own coffers (another $190,000 over six years), will top off a state contribution of $950,000 to effectively pay one-third of the price for BBA’s expansion. You’ve got to spend money to make money, Beauregard.

Item: The city approves a small business facade program agreement between Palmer Feed Store Inc. and the city of Orlando.

Translation: More stationary folks with more land-bound concerns will remember that the old chicken shack known as Palmer’s in Parramore nearly burned to the ground last March. It was the worst chicken fry ever! The city, possibly realizing that this isn’t The Jetsons and we don’t eat expensive magical pellets as meals, is stepping in to help Palmer’s restore itself to its 1947 rustic glory. Palmer’s estimates the cost of refurbishment to be $26,560, of which the city will loan (interest-free) a maximum of $20,000 through its small-business facade program for a new canopy and storefront. Poverty has its privileges.

Item: The city approves the 2012 NBA All-Star Game Weekend one-hour extension of alcoholic beverages sales from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Translation: And so does alcoholism! Like it does every time an event is deemed “special,” Orlando is once again encouraging reckless liver beating as a means to gin up more economic development for the area in the shadow of the 2012 NBA All-Star Game Weekend, Feb. 24-26. That $80 million financial impact projection isn’t going to meet itself, and a little social lubrication never hurt anyone who wasn’t already in it for the sheer danger of looking like a fool and maybe driving. In a related development, the city is also approving the official signage for the event, which will apparently be inescapable next month. Of particular note, some of the signage includes a “sparkle swoosh,” which is exactly what you see just before you run into a tree. Drink up!

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