The ribbon will be cut on the gleaming new Amway Center today, but the Orlando Magic's fight for a new arena started nearly a decade ago, with years of political horse-trading and hundreds of millions of dollars in the balance.
Building a new arena required wrangling many different players — politicians from Orlando and Orange County, the powerful hotel industry, theme-park executives, arts boosters and others — all of whom had divergent interests.
"If one of those pieces was not accomplished, we wouldn't get to this day," Magic President Alex Martins said.
But hoteliers and some Orange County commissioners balked at spending hotel taxes to replace a building that at the time was only 12 years old. An angry DeVos declared that the hotel owners needed to take their "grubby little fingers" off the tourist taxes.
In hindsight, it might have saved money if the project had been built then. In 2001, the team said a state-of-the-art building would cost $250 million. Nine years later, the final tally is nearly twice as much: $480 million, the most costly public building in Central Florida history.
And the price tag could have been even cheaper. After plans for a new arena were shot down, Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty and the team were close to an agreement to use hotel taxes to renovate the arena for $75 million.
A week later, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks put Central Florida tourism into free-fall. The hotel taxes needed for the renovation disappeared.
Magic executives never stopped wanting a new arena, arguing that their current home court lacked moneymaking amenities such as lower-bowl luxury suites, restaurants and bars that could improve the team's bottom line. But there was little support among local politicians, and the team shelved its plans for several years.
The Magic's fortunes changed when Buddy Dyer was elected mayor of Orlando. Dyer had campaigned on rejuvenating downtown, and it didn't take much to convince him that a new arena would be good for the area.
Dyer, in fact, wanted not just a new arena, but a new performing-arts center and upgrades for the aging Florida Citrus Bowl stadium.
The strategy to join all three into a single, $1 billion project did more than perhaps anything else to ensure the arena was built. The mantra of "do them all, do them now, do them right" meant that arts boosters couldn't oppose the arena without dooming the performing-arts center and vice versa.
"There was a lot more momentum together, and they weren't competing with each other," Dyer said.
But how to pay for it?
Last time, hoteliers opposed using the tourist tax. This time, Dyer and Crotty decided to give them a piece of the action. They would raise the tourist tax an extra penny: half for the arena, and half for tourism marketing meant to bring more hotel guests to town. The opposition from the hospitality industry largely disappeared.
Even so, it took 18 months of negotiations between the city and the county to come up with a final financing plan for all three venues. The complex plan relied most heavily on hotel taxes but also drew funds from downtown property taxes; city and state contributions; and money from the Magic and arts boosters.
The arena was the first of three venues to break ground — and so far, the only one. The economic crash that followed has forced the arts center to be built in phases, and no one knows when the Citrus Bowl renovations will happen.
But back in 2007, even after the plan to pay for the projects was negotiated, the Magic still had to convince a few county commissioners to vote for it.
Commissioners Bill Segal and Mildred Fernández didn't think the team's contribution of $50 million, plus future lease payments worth $12 million, was enough. With a little arm-twisting, the Magic agreed to pay an additional $25 million to build five new community gymnasiums across the county.
Commissioner Linda Stewart warned that she would vote no unless all three projects were built with conservation in mind. Backers of each of the buildings agreed, somewhat reluctantly, and the Amway Center is now expected to be the first NBA arena in the country certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.
"Everyone had specific desires," Martins said. "It was long, difficult negotiations, but in my opinion it resulted in the best of all worlds for the parties involved."
For the Magic, that result is a new home.
Mark Schlueb can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5417.