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Council Watch 

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

Love was in the air! Just because everybody saw it coming – even the lone fat religious-dissenter-cum-radio-personality returning from last week (Boss Hog, was that you?) – doesn’t make it any less significant: Orlando unanimously passed a domestic-partner registry, effectively acknowledging that gay people have feelings, too. Sure, there were political nuances – former police chief turned U.S. House candidate, Val Demings, chose to demographically grandstand with a camera rolling; the Occupy Orlando/Mike Cantone for Mayor folks delivered backhanded compliments (with embedded attacks!) to the dais – but nothing could stop this from being a true red-letter day amid red shirts in the reddest time of year. Starting Jan. 12, domestic partners of all stripes and genders can show up at the city clerk’s office, write a $30 check and feel secure that they are no less than humans in relationships. A Christmas miracle drenched in tears, then, for the last City Council meeting of the year. See you in 2012.

Item: The city approves a resolution establishing the city’s opposition to additional casino gambling in Florida and supporting “No (More) Casinos in Florida.”

Translation: Oh, craps! Those already using their speculative illusion to apply a sense of morality to the current argument over a state legislative bill that would approve the introduction of “high-stakes” destination casinos into South Florida’s pristine economic landscape are totally right. Gambling has never existed in this state, so long as you don’t count the housing market, sprawl, the Seminole Tribe, the lottery and “this parcel of land in the everglades you might be interested in.” We wouldn’t want to gamble with our values, right? Well, given that interested parties on both sides of the argument table have already wagered an estimated $2.6 million in lobbying fees in the third quarter of this year alone, it would seem that the stakes are doing a pretty good job of raising themselves. The state’s chief economist has predicted $206 million in potential construction projects and $455 million in economic development over the next four years, and that’s a lot of chips. Also, jobs! Regardless, the city sees this presently (not our) regional conflict as imminent enough of a threat to paint on its own poker face in the form of an official resolution that basically reiterates the opposition voiced by the chamber. Gambling will bring crime, prostitution and addiction to an area that knows none of these things; gambling will close established businesses because nobody will want to do anything but gamble all the time. You know, just like we all ride roller coasters all day, every day. No gambling, please!

Item: The city approves the Mad Cow Theatre funding agreement.

Translation: Speaking of gambles, many moons ago, the city agreed to rescue the Mad Cow Theatre from its current Cameron Kuhn-held home on Magnolia Avenue downtown, largely because it wanted something with an arts bent to anchor its towering 55 West development inferno on Church Street. In the ensuing years, the city’s 75-year lease of 9,000 square feet (part of an incentive agreement with former owners FFWO LLC) has shifted over to new owners, the Realty Associates Fund IX LP, though FFWO appears to still be on the hook for $708,320 in tenant improvements for the space (of which it has already deposited half). The city’s downtown-property-tax-bank, the Community Redevelopment Agency, has so far thrown in $100,000 with $480,000 more promised. It’s really happening! Except Mad Cow hoped to begin its 15th season in its new pad in January, but because all of this financial wrangling took forever, it will probably have to wait until September. One year after this complicated sublease is consummated, Mad Cow will have to pay the city $1,014 monthly in common-area maintenance fees; in its third year, Mad Cow will be on the hook for $2,029 monthly. Also, Mad Cow is going to have to pay back the $480,000 it got from the CRA in pretty heavy installments. Though the theater troupe has been fundraising valiantly to finance the move – $500,000 has been pledged, according to the city – the most recent tax documents available from the IRS show Mad Cow was operating at a six-digit deficit in 2009. Uh-oh. Mad Cow needs a miracle! And that’s just what they got when it was announced at the meeting that philanthropist Harriett Lake had just donated $400,000 to the cause. The show will go on!

Item: The city authorizes the director of purchasing to negotiate and execute a contract with one or more firms for the removal of the train adjacent to the Church Street Station.

Translation: Something that hasn’t been chugging along since its appearance beside the old Church Street Station in 1976 is the old steam train most frequently used for chugging booze and/or heavy petting in the arcade’s heyday (it was in a John Wayne movie, for chrissakes). Against former Church Street Station owner Bob Snow’s better, gray-haired judgment, the city has been tasked by the Florida Department of Transportation with derailing the locomotive icon to make room for a new SunRail platform by the end of this month. Though the Dec. 9 deadline for bids has come and gone (like, say, an early train), the city still hopes to extend the necessary removal date until it finds just the right collector to fork over the $350,000 the city estimates the train’s relocation will cost. Five bids have been received, all requiring some city financing. “Time is of the essence,” the city says in this item’s summary. Well, it used to be, anyway.

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