Sunday, May 27, 2007

Central Floridians: Sports projects low priority

"In an Orlando chamber survey -- not released to the public -- 500 Central Floridians called sports and arts projects their lowest priority. How that and other issues ranked: Violent crime 79% Water and air quality 68% Education 68% Taxes and spending 67% Political corruption 64% Economy and job growth 55% Affordable housing 50% Conservation 47% Growth management 38% Mass transit 33% UCF medical school 29% Business and government relations 26% Entertainment venues 14%

Source: Orlando Sentinel 05/25/2007

The plan to spend $1.1 billion to build sports and arts venues in downtown Orlando ranked dead last in a poll of community priorities, according to a survey conducted by business leaders who are among the biggest boosters of the projects.

The survey of 500 Central Florida voters showed they were far more interested in reducing crime, improving schools and protecting the environment. At least two-thirds of those polled ranked these as high community concerns.

Only 14 percent ranked "building world-class performing arts, sports and entertainment venues" a high priority. That was last among 16 issues surveyed, right below improving business and government relations, which 26 percent rated a "high" priority.
The survey, obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, was paid for by the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce but not released to the public.

The chamber, which includes the area's top business leaders, has been a pivotal booster of the three-venue package, which includes a new arena, performing-arts center and major Citrus Bowl upgrades. The chamber also was an architect of Project Hometown, a lobbying group that paid for radio and TV ads pushing the venues.

"It doesn't surprise me," said County Commissioner Teresa Jacobs. "It's certainly lower [venue support] than what we've been hearing from those who are advocating for them."
Chamber President Jacob Stuart said the March survey was part of a periodic polling effort business leaders use to forge policy strategies. Such results are rarely publicized, he said.

`Not a venues survey'
Stuart said the results should not be used to gauge specific support for the pending plan to build the downtown venues.
"This is not a venues survey," Stuart said.
Stuart said the fact that it's a regional poll mined from across seven Central Florida counties may confuse some respondents who thought the facilities it referred to are in their home county. Also, no project details were shared during the poll, and more venue financing features have emerged since the March 8-11 survey was conducted, he said.

David Hill of Hill Research Consultants conducted the poll. Hill said that while only 150 Orange County voters were among the 500 surveyed, their feelings mirrored sentiments of the region as a whole. Still, that pool is too small to gauge how Orange voters feel about the venues, he said.
"It would be inappropriate to say this was a poll on the venues," Hill said.
Also, Hill said that while just 14 percent rated building the venues as a high priority, only 33 percent of respondents rated the venues as a low priority, leaving 51 percent rating it as somewhere in between. "It's more of a [glass] half full or half empty thing."
On the wrong path?

Stuart said the real gist of the survey is that voters feel the community is on the wrong path. A year before, 58 percent of those answering a similar poll said the region was headed in the right direction. This latest survey saw that number dip to 42 percent, while those saying the community was on the wrong track climbed 13 percentage points to 40 percent.
"Recent prosperity has camouflaged genuine concerns in our community," Stuart said, calling it a regional "malaise."

Stuart said more recent venue-specific polls are more instructive, and reveal public support for the plan.

Yet previous public polls have carried mixed messages.
An April poll commissioned by the Sentinel found that most Orange County residents want a new performing-arts center and upgraded Florida Citrus Bowl, but say the Orlando Magic should pay a bigger share of a new arena.
When the venues are packaged together, 48 percent of Orange residents support building them, with 40 percent opposed and 12 percent undecided. The survey of 500 adults was conducted by the Mason-Dixon Polling & Research firm.

But support for both the Citrus Bowl and the arena erodes when they stand alone, that poll found. It also showed that as financing details were shared, support for the entire venue package dropped.
Magic officials said the Sentinel poll failed to reflect the team's true contribution.
A poll commissioned by the Magic found that the organization's contribution to the cost of a new arena is fair.

Nearly two out of three surveyed by the Magic's consultant -- once told details of the contribution and how it compares with other NBA teams -- say the team's offer is "fair" or "generous and more than fair."

But that survey, released soon after the Sentinel poll, failed to note public costs of the venue.
Increasing questions
Those issues have become more critical since county commissioners, who control the tourist taxes that would pay for much of the venue plan, now question whether the team is contributing enough.
City and county leaders will consider a final venue financing plan this summer. They are waiting on state lawmakers to conduct a special legislative session on property taxes next month, which could hamper the venue's public financing.

Stuart said he did not share the results with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer or Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, the two main elected proponents of the plan. And the venue results that emerged did not prompt him to rethink his support for the public-private venue effort.
"Did it give me pause?" Stuart said. "Absolutely not." "

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