The All-Star Game, as I mentioned earlier this week, is a celebration of the city of Orlando as much as a celebration of the NBA itself. There is a lot of work that goes into the game and the event.
You could really say that the preparations for the All-Star Game began when Mayor Buddy Dyer (picture left by Gian Petri of The Kevin Sutton Show) pulled his weight behind the Magic's push to build a new arena. Dyer recognized that Orlando was a first-class city with the hotel rooms and infrastructure to host major events like the NBA All-Star Game. What it lacked was a revenue-generating, state-of-the-art arena.
The city had plenty of other, stronger reasons for moving forward with the Orlando Events Center plan -- the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center construction is under way as the second stage of that plan. The quality of life for residents of the city should, the theory goes, increase with the expansion of entertainment options that Amway Center and the new performing arts center could provide. And with the extra traffic in the city from these events, every Orlando citizen would benefit.
Local businesses surrounding the Amway Center, as the Orlando Sentinel reported earlier this year, have seen a major increase in foot traffic and business. This is all despite the current controversy about the security fence outside the arena and the complaints about bringing food from outside the arena inside the arena. Not to mention the economic downturn.
Still, this has been a long road to get to the All-Star Game and a lot of opportunity for Orlando to put its best foot forward lays in front of the city and especially Mayor Buddy Dyer.
The work has been well worth it as All-Star Week comes together.
But, for Dyer, the work is really getting started for him and the city of Orlando. The All-Star Game is really just the first step of showcasing Orlando to a much larger audience.
"When we opened [the new Amway Center] the [NBA] commissioner was here, and he said 'I've been in all of the buildings around the country, around the world, and this one is the very best.' What's really great about it is that the fan amenities are available to everybody," Dyer said on The Kevin Sutton Show, as reported by Sunshine Slate.
"I think we are one of those cities that really embraces diversity, and it is one of our great strengths. I just think we are positioned to be the dominate region, dominate city in the country moving into this century.
"It's going to be fabulous ... another feather in the hat of what we have to offer people here in Orlando. I think that somebody has to be the best, why not us? We have the best arena. We are going to have a very fabulous Arts Center.
"We have a lot of art happening downtown."
Revitalizing Downtown Orlando has been a big part of Dyer's term as the city's mayor. He spent a lot of time, effort and political capital to get the events plan through. It is easy to forget, seeing the Amway Center now, the short-term benefits it has brought and the major event coming to The City Beautiful this weekend, how controversial it was to raise the tourist tax by one cent to secure the funding for the entire plan.
Orlando needed a new events center to continue to compete for world-class events and make Orlando one of those top cities in the country. Will Orlando ever be New York or Los Angeles? No, probably not. But as far as conventions, shows and events, few cities and regions have the hosting power and infrastructure -- the requisite hotel rooms, facilities, space and entertainment options -- that Orlando and Orange County have.
If it were not for Dyer's vision, none of this would be happening this week. And I dare say, the Magic might have hit an uncertain future in Orlando if they were still playing in the Amway Arena after Rich DeVos died (remember he almost sold the team in the early 2000s to an owner that would have moved the Magic).
As a "small market," Orlando needs every advantage it can get to hold onto top talent and break that perception.
Agree or disagree with his politics, there is no denying Dyer's grand vision for this city. And you cannot fault him for that. He wants what is truly best for Orlando.
The next step is working on his next pet project -- the SunRail. The politically controversial project hopes to help the region achieve smart growth and connect the entirety of Orlando, Orange County and Osceola County. Dyer's grand vision continues to expand as things get done. SunRail is expected to open in March 2014.
"SunRail is really transformational," Dyer said on The Kevin Sutton Show. "We as a community went through a process to think about how we wanted to grow. Did we want to sprawl and be an L.A. or did we want to be a more compact city that had transit corridors?
"As a region, we collectively decided that wanted to grow smarter. And you have to have a good, robust transit system if you are going to grow in that fashion and SunRail is first important key component."
Again, Dyer saw a need and found a way to make something happen to address it. Like with the arena plan, its success or failure is yet to be seen. These are costly plans that take up a lot of time and energy to build. Only time will judge its ultimate success or whether it was all worth the expense.
Dyer has worked though to move Orlando forward as a city. This weekend's All-Star Game is simply the beginning.
Just like this year's game will show how much Orlando has changed in the 20 years since it lasted hosted the NBA, Dyer seems to hope that Orlando will be ready to show another great leap forward the next time the NBA is in town.