In the park, it's car wars

This is a story about nothing. There is no problem, there was no problem and, as is usually the case hereabouts, there isn't going to be a problem. "The new signs have solved it," says Sara Van Arsdale, director of the Orange County Historical Museum. This problem -- er, short-term issue, which has been totally solved with a few new signs -- has to do with parking. Free parking. The Orange County Historical Museum has it. Its neighbor, the new Orlando Science Center, does not. Now, this isn't a problem. "There have been no circumstances when we had anybody complain about any parking problems," says Mike Perkins, the historical museum's services coordinator. The historical museum and the science center share Orlando Loch Haven Park, located between Rollins and Princeton streets on Mills Avenue. In fact, the historical museum used to be housed in the same building as the ccience center, before the center moved not long ago into its new home next door and the historical museum began to expand temporarily into the science center's old space. (The historical museum eventually will have its own new home in the old courthouse downtown.) But here's the thing: The science center just spent $44 million creating an indoor theme park with interactive displays and fake trees and laser shows. They also built a concrete parking garage where patrons could put their cars for $3.50 (without validation, it jumps to $8). That revenue helps pay off the science center's debt. So, as those affiliated with the historical museum will tell you in not-so-hushed tones, science center personnel were told to park their cars in the formerly shared -- and free -- parking lot, in order both to fill that lot faster (thereby forcing savvy science center customers into the garage) and to conserve space in the garage. This never happened, of course. Or if it did, it was only for a little while, and amicably resolved. And anyway, "We only do that on the weekends," says a science center parking garage attendant. All right, so maybe it does happen. Maybe it happens a lot. In fact, maybe the parking thing is just one small part of a larger battle between the science center and its neighbors -- including the soon-to-reopen, expanded Orlando Museum of Art, which shares the same free parking lot -- that has been brewing for years. "It's war," says one historical museum employee, who asked not to be quoted by name. "They've been the bully on this block for a long time." But if it's war, why won't Perkins and VanArsdale admit it? Because the science center brass complained to the Orange County Health and Community Service Division, our source says. That's VanArsdale's boss. Much of the recent stress and bad feelings seem to stem from the way the science center's allegedly vacated its old digs. How bad were the quarters that the historical museum took over? Let's just say that, if the science center had been renting, it would not have gotten its security deposit back. According to the source: According to the source: â?¢ Wiring throughout the former science center was substandard -- and fixtures were apparently taken to be reused in the new building. â?¢ Historical museum personnel found laminated cards indicating that, toward the end of their stay in their old home, science center employees had been directed to use only those bathrooms that were located in the historical museum. "They don't want to buy toilet paper," the source explained. ... Plastic lawn furniture not needed by the science center was offered to the historical museum at $200 per set -- then sold to construction workers for $25 a set. It was more than just a rude disregard for the new occupants. The science center's alleged behavior is reminiscent of a spendthrift heir, the blonde playboy who bums $5 to gas up his Jaguar. Then again, there's no problem. One recent weekday saw the historical museum's 200-car parking lot about half full, and the science center's pay lot doing brisk business. Now, there weren't exactly 100 people marveling at the historical museum's "100 Years of Jell-O" exhibit, and the path from the free brick lot to the science center's front door seemed well-worn. Someone had even trampled some of the signs that say, "Parking for Art and Historical Museum Only." But no one was complaining. At least not officially.
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