It’s only a matter of time before we will have a shiny new arts center in downtown Orlando.
The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center was approved by the Orlando City Council Monday, May 23, and a groundbreaking is set for June 23.
Any lover of the arts would be excited to have a state-of-the-art facility that will likely draw world-class shows and people from all over Central Florida.
But what many people don’t realize is that an established arts center is sitting right under our noses.
Winter Park boasts a litany of grass-roots art centers, from the Breakthrough Theater of Winter Park to the Winter Park Playhouse to the nearby Orlando Shakespeare Theater. And while many of these smaller venues hold their own, others have fallen due to lack of support and finances. Only a few months ago, Winter Springs-based Festival of Orchestras, which has been performing in Central Florida for 27 years, shut down after the struggling economy put a chokehold on its revenue stream. Organizations such as the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bach Festival Society and the Orlando Ballet continue to chug along.
Instead of supporting the arts venues we already have, the community has fought tooth-and-nail to create this new Performing Arts Center. The city of Orlando and Orange County approved a $1.1 billion deal in 2007 for three venues in downtown Orlando — the Amway Center, which has been up and running for nearly a year, the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, and a renovation to the Citrus Bowl, which is still on hold. The money was supposed to be generated from tourism dollars, but the recession, which took hold in 2008, stifled those funds.
For the past four years, those supporting the new PAC have been relentlessly searching for funds to make the new facility a reality. The city of Orlando hopes to generate $43 million in tourist-tax dollars by 2015, and in the meantime, local philanthropists have promised the rest in a line of credit.
Millions of dollars have been put up by PAC supporters — more than the Orlando Magic poured into their new arena — and they probably won’t see a penny in returns. Imagine what our existing community-based arts venues would look like if that much money was poured into them by those who love the arts. Facilities could be renovated, more actors would find work and more scholarships could be funded.
But in Orlando, we have decided that new and shiny beats grassroots and community. For instance, the Amway Center was built even though Orlando already had the Amway Arena. It wasn’t new or shiny, but it was a good host to our sporting and entertainment events.
One of the positive things about living through a recession is that people learn to get back to their roots. They find pleasure in the smaller things in life. Going to the store to replace something that might just need a few repairs is not feasible in tough economic times. When we’re all struggling, it’s easier to find a sense of community, which is why it’s hard to believe that spending millions of dollars on a new facility would be seen as a better use of money than making what we already have better.