In downtown Orlando, they have opened up the glitzy new Amway Center, the new home of the NBA Orlando Magic. But unlike Buffalo, planners and developers there did not leave the adjoining streetscape in the condition of empty, windswept cobblestone streets. They did not create a muddy hole in the ground which will stay that way for decades to come. Adjoining residential dwellers did not go into convoluted hysterics at the horror of parking ramps being erected in their proximity. Local leaders did not engage with small minded obstructionists who decreed that any growth or construction would not be “sustainable”, that the land is “sacrosanct”, and they would sue if they did not get their way.
The Amway Center is a fine addition to the gleaming Orlando cityscape. It is visible and accessible right along I-4. Best of all, the arena is offering new life to a development called the Church Street Station.
Church Street was developed back in the 70s and 80s as a one stop nightclub destination. With architecture mimicking New Orlean’s French Quarter buildings, the neighborhood went into decline, despite the growth of the city core and the construction of new condo towers and offices right in the neighborhood.
Enter the Orlando Magic. Opened just last fall, the new Amway Center is designed as a pedestrian friendly and city friendly venue. The adjoining streetscape blends in with the surrounding neighborhood nicely. Street pavers, architectural elements and landscaping and lighting create a town square feel. The adjoining street is closed off on event days, allowing for outdoor concerts, game areas, food stands and other people-drawing elements to take center stage.
Interesting too, that across the street from the arena is a parking ramp. Yet the entire ground floor facade facing Church Street is dedicated to curbside retail. So what you got is a plethora of bars, a coffee house, tchotchke shops, an art gallery, most stores with outdoor cafe seating, all blending in with the vibe and energy of the street party.
Immediately east of the arena neighborhood is the I-4. Even the space underneath the viaduct, normally a gray and bland afterthought when it comes to planning, is nicely laid out, with mosaic tile paving, lush landscaping, street furniture, and snazzy neon lighting along the bridges, and that leads straight into Church Street Station.
The rail station itself has been restored and is awaiting future development as a stop on the planned SunRail commuter rail system. Meantime, the old replica buildings are seeing new life with restaurants, brew pubs, a book store, coffee shops and tourist souvenir shops now occupying the space. Clearly, the thousands of fans who patronize the Amway Center for Magic games, concerts and other events are breathing new life into this great neighborhood which is really put together very well.
So imagine that. Sports fans attending an event and looking for cool places to visit before and after a game. Economic development tied into throngs of arena patrons. Gee what a novel concept!
But please don’t tell that to the Fishers, Tielmans, Esmondes and Goldmans of this world. Don’t tell that to the Marine Drive tenants, extolling the health horrors that await if a ramp is built next to their buildings. Hey this is Buffalo. We aren’t allowed to have nice things. We are only allowed to have a muddy crater, rubble strewn streets surrounded by snow fencing, foundations of whorehouses surrounded by historic plaques, and other lame crap that nobody wants to see.
Nice to see that Orlando gets it. Why don’t we?