Orlando drops eminent domain action against church, moves soccer stadium farther west
Orlando Sentinel (FL), 2014-08-05
Aug. 05 --The city of Orlando on Monday dropped its eminent-domain fight against a family-owned Parramore church, the lone holdout in the way of the city's plans to build a new Major League Soccer stadium downtown.
Instead, Orlando will move the new $110 million stadium about a block west, using property the city bought last week for $2 million .
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said the move avoids a costlier condemnation fight with Faith Deliverance Temple . It also ensures stadium construction starts this fall, which should allow the team to play in its new facility at the start of the 2016 season.
"This presents a better opportunity for the city," Dyer said at a news conference in City Hall .
The decision also eliminated a sensitive issue for the city as it negotiated with a black neighborhood church whose owners did not want to move.
"It's wonderful," said Jonathan Williams , whose parents founded the church. "It wasn't expected, but it was welcomed."
The city had been in negotiations with the church since last year, but the two sides remained far apart.
City officials had offered Faith Deliverance $1.5 million for the property, or more than twice the appraised value.
The church, however, initially demanded $35 million -- basing its price, in part, on Orlando's decision in 2007 to spend the same amount for part of First United Methodist Church's downtown property that made room for the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts .
The city's most recent offer to Faith Deliverance went up to $4 million , and the church countered with a $15 million asking price.
"It's your guess on where we might have been [headed] with that," Dyer said. "We knew we were in for a longer battle."
Dyer said the family made it clear for the first time this summer that they wanted to stay put.
"They got what they wanted," said Williams. "And we got exactly what we were asking for."
It was a separate deal last week that made the move possible. That's when Orlando announced it had paid $2 million to buy back a nearby Parramore parcel that the city once owned.
The $2 million purchase for that land at the corner of Church Street and Parramore was more than double the $814,000 the city sold it for in 2005. The buyer nine years ago was the Black Business Investment Fund , or BBIF, a nonprofit that provides loans and advice to minority-owned businesses.
The BBIF wanted to build an 11-story office-and-retail building with a community theater. But it never got off the ground, despite City Hall financial incentives that have not been repaid.
The city already owns the rest of the BBIF block, which also hosts a fire station and Parramore Heritage Park . Relocating the station, along with other fixes to the block, could add $2 million more in costs.
When the church-land talks were fizzling, the BBIF contacted the city about buying back its land.
When the city bought the BBIF land last week, it was not certain that it could accommodate the soccer project, city officials said. But over the last week Dyer's staff determined it could make the stadium-site move work.
"It turned out to be a silver lining," Dyer said of the BBIF property. Dyer said that the new development layout allows more room for the stadium and its parking, plus opens the door to more affordable housing and business infill options there.
The city's failure to acquire the church property has delayed the stadium's construction. The Orlando City Lions, the new professional soccer team, initially planned to start playing in its new stadium during the 2015 MLS season. But the uncertainly about the land led to a decision to play the entire 2015 season in the Citrus Bowl.
Orlando City Soccer Club President Phil Rawlins praised Dyer for approving the 19,500-seat stadium relocation, saying it was "a win for everyone involved."
"Our fans will benefit from added amenities....such as more entertainment areas prior to and after the matches," Rawlins said.
Rawlins said the team will form a committee of Parramore leaders, including Commissioner Regina Hill and state Sen. Geraldine Thompson , D- Orlando , to help weave the community's culture and history into the new facility.
"We've reached a very happy medium," said Hill, the district representative who lauded the affordable housing and business in-fill plans. "I'm very excited by the opportunity that this presents."
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