The NBA season is fast approaching, filled with countless storylines to make just about any sports fan salivate. Last year’s Heat is not this year’s Heat, the Lakers have a chance pull a three-peat, and Dwight Howard is certainly tired of his team getting overlooked by the press and is hungry to prove his critics wrong. Even The Orlando Sentinel recently posed this question to diehard football-faithful Floridians: Which season are you more excited about – NFL or NBA?
The fact that such a question was even asked suggests that the new NBA season sure looks mighty appealing to all sports fans around the state.
Let’s just say the excitement is brewing. Bubbling over, even, to see the Magic play their first game in their new home, the Amway Center.
The arena is entering its finishing stages. New palm trees now frame the building, new employees have been hired, and the events calendar is rapidly filling up for the new Amway Center. The long awaited arena is ready to open, and local leaders have repeatedly touted how Amway Center will undoubtedly transform Orlando.
We have all heard how this building is going to change everything. Politicians like Buddy Dyer see the arena as the catalyst to re-spark almost everything about downtown Orlando, including the area’s economy, the area's entertainment vibe and the overall image of Orlando throughout the world.
Furthermore, Dyer has also insisted that the new venue would monumentally revitalize the social problems hampering downtown Orlando’s west end neighborhood: Parramore.
Such transformative claims are definitely not uncommon when politicians try to "sell" a new sports venue. But, can a new arena really "change" a neighborhood?
Economically, the new Amway will indeed have some impact in the immediate area around the venue. It’s not going to be hugely monumental, but nearby shop and restaurant owners will surely benefit from increased business as I emphasized in the previous part of this series. Businesses on Church Street are anxiously anticipating the foot traffic of thousands of arena visitors, hoping Magic fans and concertgoers will drop some cash on a quick bite or drink.
As for entertainment, the arena’s impact on downtown is obvious. Professional basketball, arena football, big-time concerts, various sports tournaments… the entertainment potential is clearly huge. And, the glossy new building will certainly cast a bright spotlight on Orlando for a few years (at least until a bigger, better arena is built somewhere else). These claims are pretty straightforward.
Yet, as much as I am looking forward to checking out the new arena myself, I cannot help but take issue with the mayor’s argument that Amway Center will revolutionize the lives of the residents of Parramore. Quite simply, I am skeptical of the mayor’s belief in the transformative abilities of Amway Center regarding Parramore.
However, it is not that I believe this particular building is specifically lacking in some particular way. Amway Center is well-equipped to stage everything from professional sports to the circus, with all the fancy bells and whistles included.
Rather, I argue that this shiny building is really no different than stadiums and arenas everywhere. Amway Center simply does not possess the ability to socially transform a "troubled" neighborhood. Sports centers built in lower income urban areas throughout the country almost always end up becoming like isolated islands, never really integrating with the surrounding community.
I have a hunch that the new Amway will end up like an island in the sea of the Parramore neighborhood. Although the new arena is geographically in Parramore, most (if not all) arena-goers will not interact whatsoever with the historically African American neighborhood. A majority of visitors will either park for games in the garage behind the arena or end up in garages skirting Church Street and Orange Avenue, never really setting foot in the actually Parramore neighborhood.
At least the old arena led nearby homeowners on game nights to sell front-yards as temporary parking lots, along with offering goods like bottled water to arena visitors. The new Amway Center does not really offer this opportunity due to its location.
Ironically, it already appears that Division Avenue behind Amway Center will indeed be the dividing line between sports fans and the actual residents of downtown Orlando's lower income west end.
Of course, it’s no secret that sports venues are typically constructed in lower income zones of major cities. While politicians usually claim a new stadium will revolutionize poorer neighborhoods, stadium site selection is typically largely based on low priced land values to obtain a large sect of land for cheap. While I'm sure the new Amway Center site was in no way inexpensive, there is a reason, after all, that it was not built somewhere on Orange Avenue...
At the end of the day, Amway Center, like all sports venues, is simply a very expensive fun center. And, well, there's nothing really wrong with that.
I just think that politicians should be more honest and upfront (who doesn’t).
Essentially, stop trying to pull the wool over my eyes, telling me how the new arena will be the catalyst that singlehandedly improves Parramore. Stop selling sports venues on assets that they cannot really provide. A new arena will provide entertainment value and notoriety for Orlando, but it certainly won't encourage a Parramore 12-year-old to stay in school or reduce crime rates.
But, then again, I am willing to bet that the "let's build this $300 million arena because it will be really cool and a heckuva lot of fun" argument would not fly very far with public opinion. Thus, we end up with grand claims and promises that sound really great but never really come true.
The truth is that while such giant homes to sports franchises do provide marginal economic benefit, these buildings are far from magic pills to fix conspicuous urban problems like blight, poverty, school retention, and crime that plague neighborhoods like Parramore.
Don't get me wrong. The city's "Blueprint" program did benefit some Parramore residents, encouraging the Magic and the Populous architectural firm to hire minority employees and companies to help with construction and operation of the new arena. A concerted effort was certainly made to reach out to community of Parramore. But, even so, this building will not really transform the community of Parramore.
Various other efforts are far more effective for community outreach. Initiatives like the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation's efforts with school supply giveaways and player appearances in local schools improve the community. Dwight Howard serving food at local homeless shelters during the holidays improves the community. Multiple sports gyms recently opened for local residents will definitely improve the community.
From the city, increased police visibility, after-school tutoring programs, and added financial investment in neighborhood infrastructure have all improved the Parramore community. Mayor Dyer’s “Kidz Zone” program is touted by many for having improved the test scores of Parramore’s children in recent years. Such initiatives have greatly reduced the booming crime rate that once plagued the neighborhood.
Parramore is clearly improving, but such improvements are not likely to result from the new arena.
Will the arena be awesome? Yep.
Will the arena transform Parramore? Eh, not really.
My Verdict: Amway Center's Potential to Revitalize the Parramore Neighborhood: D
For the next part of this series, I try to determine how Amway Center will affect how Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer will be remembered after leaving office. All political leaders carry a legacy after completing public service, leaving a particular issue or accomplishment in the minds of citizens long after the politician leaves office. Dyer will be remembered for one major issue: the venues project. Will Amway Center make or break Dyer’s legacy?