Magic Continue to Spark Downtown Revitalization

By John Denton
September 14, 2011

ORLANDO – From the time that ground was first broken to the unveiling and opening of the magnificent Amway Center last November, Orlando Magic president Alex Martins said the entire concept was about so much more than simply providing a home for the basketball team.

The Amway Center, Martins and the City of Orlando always hoped, would ultimately be a catalyst that would spark downtown development, create jobs and bring residents flooding back into the heart of the city.

Now, following a successful first year at the Amway Center, the Magic are looking outside of the state-of-the-art facility to once again grow development opportunities on the west side of downtown Orlando.

In coordination with the City of Orlando, the Magic are undertaking a year-long feasibility study to examine a sports and entertainment complex adjacent to the Amway Center, pending City Council approval. The project represents a potential $100 million investment by the Magic and their partners. The complex, that is estimated to bring 1,000 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs to downtown and also move the Magic’s team headquarters, would also provide dining, hotel and entertainment options to residents and visitors. The construction, which would likely be completed in three years time, would also continue the revitalization of Downtown Orlando and the Parramore neighborhood.

The Magic and its investors would be a part of the venture and no public tax dollars would be used. The Magic will pay the approximately $2 million for the feasibility study to be conducted, and the approval of any development plans would require passing by the City Council.

Similar complexes tied to downtown arenas in Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville and Columbus have been smashing successes. Some have been owned by NBA teams, while others have not been.

``With the research that we’ve done, the majority of these developments that have been placed next to downtown arenas have been quite successful and have spurred other development over time,’’ Martins said Wednesday from the Amway Center. ``Now, it doesn’t happen overnight. Typically, it takes a decade. But study Columbus and Nashville and those are two great examples of how it starts with one development and blossoms out into an entire district being born. It starts with a downtown arena and is spreads out from there. It usually starts with these Sports and Entertainment districts that bring other forms of entertainment, bring other restaurants, retail and some office space.

``Our goal for these (existing) merchants (located adjacent to the Amway Center) here now is to take a step ahead of where they are now. We’re going to draw more people into this corridor and this will become a 365 (day) portion of downtown,’’ Martins continued. ``Right now there might be 150 events at the arena a year that are drawing people into this section of downtown. But this development will draw people here every day with 300 full-time employees and would include the headquarters of the Magic.’’

The project would be anchored by the Magic’s own corporate headquarters, which is currently located in Maitland at the RDV Sportsplex. The sports and entertainment complex would also include a hotel and conference center, dining establishments and taverns and additional retail shops. Another parking garage would also be constructed to replace the existing one that sits next to the Amway Center.

Martins said the Magic want to help spur downtown development that has lagged primarily because of the nation’s sluggish economy. Martins said there are too many examples of areas around arenas thriving to think that this won’t be a success for the Magic and their investment partners.

``We used the other examples such as Charlotte, Nashville and Columbus and how these developments came up in those cities. Unfortunately after our building opened there was a turn in the economy. So (the growth) hasn’t happened here yet, but we have the opportunity to kick-start that and be the catalyst,’’ Martins said. ``We’re not going to sit on the sidelines for another three or four years before someone has the wherewithal to start it. Let’s kick-start it now and by the time that we’re done in three years hopefully the economy will have rebounded and the redevelopment of downtown will continue.’’

Martins and City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Deyer have also pledged to work closely with the West Church Street tenants to try to come up with a plan that could incorporate their businesses into the new development. The city and the Magic subsidized the tenants’ rent during construction of the arena and also helped provide business plans for those developments to ensure their success in the years after the Amway Center was constructed nearby. The Magic have also invested heavily in the neighboring Parramore community, donating to health and wellness programs, while refurbishing educational centers and building playgrounds.

``Look, we’ve been probably the biggest supporters of those businesses of anybody in this city. We subsidized their rent for quite some time during the construction of Amway Center and we paid for business plans for those businesses,’’ Martins said. ``We’ve been great supporters and we’ve told them, `We’re not going to turn our backs on you.’ We don’t know what the lease rates will be there because we don’t know what the development will be yet. What I do tell them is that we have a track record and a partnership. I’ve subsidized them for years and helped them develop their businesses over time and I’m not going to turn my back to them.’’

And like with the Amway Center – which opened last November to rave reviews and was considered by many to be the premier facility in all the NBA – the Magic plan to make the Sports and Entertainment district a top-notch facility. Martins said the Magic will take the best ideas from other districts in Los Angeles, Charlotte, Nashville and Columbus and make the one in Orlando state-of-the-art to match the Amway Center’s high quality.

Added Martins: ``We’re going to study them all, and just like we did with the Amway Center, we’re going to take the best ideas from those sports and entertainment developments and put them into this one. We’ll do one better than anyone of those did over time.’’