Enter the mayor, stage right

The mayor didn't show. But in her absence at a meeting on Feb. 2 of theater advocates, there still was news from City Hall to cheer: A new Central Florida Theater Alliance last week was offered a home of its own in city-owned property near the Orlando Arena.

That offer from Mayor Glenda Hood still needs the City Council's OK. And there are many potential problems inherent in carving a stage, and maybe two, out of an empty space that formerly housed a failed day-care center, the failed Pinkie Lee's restaurant and the offices of the failed Orlando Jackals roller-hockey team.

But as evidence of the city's newfound desire to subsidize small-scale theater groups now clamoring for a higher profile, it gives those generally homeless groups reason for hope [see "Dear Mayor Hood," Jan. 29].

It also offers a chance for the nascent alliance to test its own negotiating and internal political skills. Who will buck up to renovate and equip the space, which Hood proposes to rent out for $1 a year? Who decides which performers can use it? How will schedules be juggled, and what happens when demands for access inevitably overlap?

Not to be overlooked is parking. Although the vacant space -- at 380-398 W. Amelia St. -- actually is located on the first floor of a public garage, the mayor's offer does not include the promise of any parking spaces. Thus, on many nights, patrons and performers alike can expect to compete for paid parking slots with the crowds filling up the adjacent arena and Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre.

Of course, there's another option. "You'll have to promote Lymmo," the city's deputy chief administrator, Brenda Robinson, told those assembled at the Civic Theatres, revealing a sliver of the city's motivation in turning over the money-losing space to the nonprofit arts group.

Expanding Lymmo's hours -- the new, free downtown shuttle runs its loop only until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday -- was one among scores of options that advocates proposed for the alliance, whose long-term goal is a downtown theater district. With shows that begin at 8 p.m., a ride that ends at 10 p.m. benefits no one.

Given more emphasis was this: The alliance should develop a stance on Hood's proposed performing arts center, if only to speak as a collective voice to ensure that concerns of the local performers are not overlooked as plans advance for a downtown hall costing up to $260 million.

To that end, Robinson threw open the doors to a meeting with the likely performing arts center architect (9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, on the second floor of City Hall). Originally scheduled for a smaller group and in a smaller room, the meeting was moved to the council chambers presumably to broaden participation; Hood may be learning that there are more people she has to win over before support for such a center reaches critical mass.

Indeed, even a theater district downtown remains a topic of debate, as groups anchored outside of that area push for a broader survey of sites. Said one participant: "If somebody comes to us in Maitland and says ‘we've got a space,' we're going to take it."

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