Central Florida 100: Housing, UCF and mourning New Zealand
Thad Seymour should be the interim president of UCF for a year or more, trustees decided Thursday. (Courtesy of UCF)
Chris Carmody, shareholder, GrayRobinson
Last week: On Thursday, for the second straight year, the Florida Senate passed legislation aimed at protecting vegetable gardens on private property. Wheat a second, that’s illegal? Well, not here in central Florida, but some south Florida cities got all artichoked up about front lawn gardens and outlawed them. Senator Rob Bradley thought it was about thyme to change that. His bill would prevent local govern-mint from restricting gardens, and exempts water control, fertilizer and invasive species ordinances. The bill still has a long road to hoe in the House, but perhaps this year the seeds will sprout. After all, it ain’t over lentil it’s over.
Last week: Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to two different organizations, a local LGBT group and the Trump Club of Seminole County. Clearly, these organizations have little in common. However, my presentation at both focused on recent successes and challenges regarding infrastructure, environment and public safety. Ironically, both had similar questions and concerns. It reminded me that perception is not always reality. People are people and at their core, everyone has the same desire for a quality life, safety in their homes and freedom to pursue happiness. If we concentrated on our shared goals, instead of our differences, achieving them would be infinitely easier.
Last week: So here is a great question…why would you leave your pet tied up or abandon them during a natural or manmade disaster? You don’t! If this is the kind of person you are, then you don’t deserve the privilege of having a fur baby as a friend. A bill, which was filed on March 1, would make it a criminal act to leave pets chained up during such events, specifically by making it a first-degree misdemeanor. Under the bill, those who leave their pets unattended or restrained during a disaster would face up to a year in jail or a fine up to $5,000. Perhaps this light sentence will make a person think next time they abandon man’s/woman’s best friend. Probably not.
Last week: In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack in New Zealand, it was heartwarming to see so many Orlandoans rallying together to support our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world. For those who lived here at the time of the terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub, we know first-hand how important these rallies are in the aftermath to a community simultaneously grieving and healing. While we’re thousands of miles removed from each other, every modicum of support that we demonstrate towards the Muslim community of Christchurch is an affront to the terrorists and serves as a small step forward in the healing process. As those in Christchurch stood with Orlando in 2016, we stand with you now.
Francisco Gonzalez, philanthropy director, National Review Institute
Last week: Congratulations to Andrew Gillum for finding a job! Florida voters rejected him in November, but he still had $3.9 million cash on hand from that campaign and he’s found a way to use it: on a voter registration drive. Andrew seems to be really good at getting out the vote — and finding a way to pay himself for this new job.
Looking ahead: It’s amazing how far to the Left – and how far outside the Constitution – many in the Democratic Party have gone recently. There was a day when the biggest fight between Left and Right was about the size and role of government. Now, it’s about the foundation of the Republic itself. Top candidates for the Democratic ticket want to get rid of the Electoral College and have suggested reinventing the Supreme Court, while also consistently attacking the Bill of Rights. This is scary stuff. For the future of our country and the world, let’s work to keep it fantasy.
Eric Jackson, president/CEO, Total Roof Services Corp.; board member, Children’s Home Society of Florida
Looking ahead: The recent passage of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act sends a clear message: Children belong with their families. I’m encouraged to see the federal government’s commitment to invest in front-end services like parenting education, substance abuse treatment and counseling so more children can remain safely at home. This is a direction Children’s Home Society of Florida has been moving toward for years as it strives to end the need for foster care as we know it by keeping more families safe, strong and together. As Florida prepares to implement this legislation, I look forward to seeing the collaboration among the state and community-based care lead agencies.
Last week: In November, Floridians adopted Amendment 4 by a nearly two-thirds majority, restoring voting rights to convicted felons who had served their time and completed all other requirements. Now the Legislature is considering a bill that can potentially delay or take away those newly-reinstated rights — especially for lower-income people. Voter enfranchisement is supposed to level the playing field.
Looking ahead: Warren Buffett is offering a million dollars a year for life to anyone (or, at least, any of his employees) who picks a perfect Sweet 16 bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament. I took a look at the schedule, and I’m confident I’ve got a winner. I’m picking "TBA" for all sixteen. Now all I need is a job at Berkshire Hathaway.
Ken LaRoe, founder and CEO of First GREEN Bancorp
Last week: Thanks to Gov. DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Fried, the will of the people was finally met with the smokable marijuana bill. What this really means is that the whole flower — with its unique set of medicinal properties — can now be purchased and used in its many different methods of administration. What we need next is recreational. I’ve heard repeatedly the horrors of recreational. That is absolutely untrue as cannabis is not a gateway drug, is not addictive and cannot cause overdose. Let’s move the discussion out of the dark ages.
Looking ahead: I live in rural Lake County where I grew up. It used to be peaceful and quiet. Since all gun laws were made illegal by our NRA-pandering Republican legislature, every gun nut has set up a DIY gun range in their backyard. It’s basically like Aleppo all day long with semi-automatic and fully automatic gun fire going off. That is bad enough but now a number of the inconsiderates have starting shooting at night! Our sleep was rudely interrupted the other night at 11 p.m. by gunfire that lasted 15 minutes. When is the gun insanity going to stop?
Last week: The Altamonte Springs autonomous shuttle project has been in the works for over 20 years. Officials could not foresee autonomous vehicles back then, but they certainly could foresee a need for an S.R. 436 parallel corridor for transit. Businesses along the corridor have been giving the City easement and right-of-way access ever since, at no cost to taxpayers. What could cost Florida taxpayers is House Bill 4043 – a $2 million gift to the city to kick start a project between an unnamed private venture and the city. Privately run public shuttles could succeed. However, taxpayers subsidizing private entities are often on the hook for more.
Looking ahead: Police lurking in the shadows to catch speeders is neither safe, nor is it effective in reducing speeding. It’s also a sleazy way to enforce the speed limit. We need our police to be out in the open and visible to drivers. Assuming the police are there in the interest of public safety, what’s better, a cop behind a bush or a police vehicle in the open to remind all drivers to drive safely? Seminole County Sheriff’s vehicles are a good example of where you will almost always see the patrol car out in the open for everyone to see.
Last week: As Orlandoans, we mourn for the victims of the white nationalist inspired anti-Muslim terrorist massacres at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 50 people. The cowardly terrorist mass shootings, which were live-streamed, horridly remind us of the deadly Pulse nightclub attack on June 12, 2016. The victims included New Zealanders of all racial backgrounds as well as nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. And, while I can’t blame New Zealand for seeking to ban assault weapons after the massacre, I wonder what it will do to combat the root cause of the tragedy, violent white extremist ideology.
Looking ahead: The Mueller Report will soon be complete and will undoubtedly spawn a cannibalistic frenzy among politicians and pundits. Will it be released to the public? Let’s hope so, otherwise media outlets will be consumed in a bottomless sinkhole of Trumpian conspiracy theory and sensationalism for the next two years. Personally, I’d like to watch real news. Is there a smoking gun that will overwhelmingly demonstrate that President Donald Trump is a Manchurian Candidate for the Russians? Probably not. Did Trump fail to disclose business dealings with Russia opening the door for compromise? Probably so. So where does that leave us?
Last week: As our country becomes more divided, we must not forget one of the most critical lessons we teach our young children – the lesson of compassion and kindness regardless of differences. We are now being reminded of this valuable message by a local kindergarten class in Merritt Island in Brevard County. The class designed a symbol for kindness and hope for it to gain worldwide recognition. If enough people sign their online petition, it will be sent to the leaders of Congress, Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. Lately, it seems we could all benefit from this little reminder, so let’s hope the class achieves its goal!
Looking ahead: We are overlooking a group that was strongly affected by our country’s college-admissions scandal. The disastrous impact this systemwide abuse has had on students with learning disabilities is severe. They are already stigmatized and many students with learning differences report experiencing various forms of discriminationby peers and even teachers and staff. Many falsely believe that students with learning challenges get an unfair advantage. Sadly, the only unfair advantage here is the ridiculous sums of money parents are willing to pay college preparatory businesses so their children — whom they apparently believe can only be successful in college through dishonest and unethical scams — can attend an Ivy League school.
Last week: There was a modern-day David vs. Goliath showdown that took place in the Fifth District Court of Appeal. Rural East Orange County residents squared off again against an incestuous giant of developers, lobbyists, lawyers and even their own county government paid for by their own tax dollars. Broken promises, conflicted representation and the powerful trying to crush the little guy describes the fight of these residents to prevent incompatible development east of the urban service boundary in a part of Orange County already neglected for far too long. May the giant fall again this time because the cause is right.
Last week: The opening of EarthFare at the corner of Gore and Orange Avenue on Wednesday morning was a sight to behold. Hundreds of people lined up to enter the long-anticipated urban market with a chance to win big money gift cards. The crowd included enthusiastic health food shoppers, hopeful social media “influencers” live streaming their experience as well as people who just love the freebies from a grand opening. Patrons of EarthFare can count on an easy-to-access parking garage from Gore or Orange Avenue and plenty of seating to enjoy made-fresh breakfast, lunch or dinner options.
Last week: A program exists that provides tax incentives, including temporary deferrals on capital gains taxes when those gains are reinvest into qualified opportunity funds, called Opportunity Zones. The objective is to invest those funds into low-income communities. Often these programs end up benefiting the investor and work against low-income families. These programs should be carefully monitored to make sure they’re benefiting the community and not only the investor. This could easily spin into a situation where government revenue is lost and expenditure goes up for section 8 housing subsidies to accommodate the newly created group of homeless. It takes concerned citizens to hold government accountable and hopefully these communities can invest the time to do so.
Last week: It took the New Zealand government less than a week to pass a ban on semiautomatic assault rifles after last week’s horrific terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In contrast, the Florida Legislature has refused to act on demands from a majority of Floridians to pass similar legislation nearly 3 years after the mass shooting involving AR-15s at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and over a year after the mass shooting at the high school in Parkland. A state ban on all semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines is not a 2nd Amendment issue; it’s a public safety issue.
Last week: Last week’s news about an innovative economic project in Lake County is exciting! In what looks to be the start of bigger things to come, U.S. and British grocers are partnering to bring tech and jobs to a new warehouse in Groveland by 2021. Described as an “advanced robotics customer fulfillment center,” the tech comes from England, and allows for the creation of about 400 “higher wage” jobs that blend robotic efficiencies with human intuition and interaction. The best economic development initiatives create or compliment jobs, not replace them, so this project looks to be a win/win for Central Florida.
Looking ahead: Junior Achievement of Central Florida and Chepenik Financial are partnering for the fifth year to hold the original 4.01K Race for Financial Fitness in Orlando Cultural Park on Saturday, March 30 at 8 a.m. The annual walk/run event brings people and families together for healthy fun as well as to showcase the importance of financial planning. Proceeds benefit Junior Achievement, which supports 50,000 students across Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia counties each year through programs like work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills, in addition to experiential learning. Come on out to run, learn and/or volunteer!
Last week: Orlando has a strong jazz community. Much of that strength is thanks to Jeff Rupert. Rupert runs the jazz department at UCF and works tirelessly to cultivate a strong jazz community throughout Central Florida. He hosts a monthly show at the Bamboo Center for the Arts, which is always a strong musical experience. Last week, he facilitated the UCF Orlando Jazz Festival. Each year, the festival hosts some of the best jazz musicians from around the world. The festival has passed, but it’s not too late to experience Orlando’s jazz scene. Check out the Timucua House Blue Bamboo for regular jazz programming.
Looking ahead: Mark Baratelli is known for his innovative and interesting cultural events. For years, he has curated and run the Daily City Food Truck Bazaar. Now he has devoted time and energy to building “Orlando Flea.” This market features the best makers and craftspeople from around Central Florida. It’s well worth attending. And the next Bazaar is Sunday, March 31 at Celine Orlando. The multi-level venue is in Downtown Orlando and easily accessible from the nearby parking at The Plaza at Pine and Orange. It runs from noon to 4 p.m. Don’t miss it!
Brendan O’Connor, editor in chief, Bungalower.com
Last week: Bikes are taking over Orlando and I’m not mad about it. But I am a little anxious. Bike share systems are here to stay, scooters are on the horizon too. The newly opened Colonial Pedestrian Bridge just opened up over the weekend along with a new segment of Gertrude’s Walk and it’s tough not to be swept up in some sort of pedal-powered ecstasy but I’ve managed to maintain a portion of cynicism and worry if Orlando drivers are ready for more cyclists on the road and if those cyclists in turn are aware that while fun, they should still pay attention.
Looking ahead: A number of lawsuits that preceded an internal "civil rights audit" by Facebook has resulted in a $5 million settlement to groups that include ACLU, CWA, and NFHA. The lawsuits claimed that Facebook was enabling discrimination in housing, employment, and credit advertising by allowing users to hyper-target their advertisements based on characteristics like race, gender, and age. As a result over 5,000 categories that include targeting ethnicity and religion will be removed from the platform.
Beverly Paulk, founding member, Central Florida Foundation and The Orlando Philharmonic
Last week: Thad Seymour is well qualified to lead the University of Central Florida as interim president for as long as needed. His leadership style is based on a calm, thoughtful, collaborative approach. He has long demonstrated his commitment to service in our community. Thad has led the team for UCF’s new downtown campus, reported so far to be on time and on budget. Thad and Katie, his wife, have provided key leadership to dozens of nonprofits and important community projects as individuals and as a couple. Central Florida is fortunate to include Thad and Katie as they continue to serve.
Last week: GOAA’s legal assault on Orlando Melbourne International Airport and Orlando Sanford International Airport for trademark infringement is rather perplexing since trademark infringement requires “likelihood of confusion to the public." Both cities conspicuously identify their names and any traveler can clearly locate Melbourne or Sanford on Google Maps. Nothing confusing about that! A traveler flying to Midway in Chicago or Love Field in Dallas knows they are not the primary airports for those particular cities, but selects them based on travel needs anyway. Not only is GOAA’s action legally misguided, but it flies in the face of the regionalism Central Florida has fostered for over 20 years.
Looking ahead: The acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets by Disney adds super fuel to a jet powerhouse capable of explosively metabolizing and leveraging content simultaneously through movies, television, theme parks, merchandise, and so much more. Disney’s prior acquisitions of Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar paid off handsomely for investors over the past five years. Its current acquisition of Fox, albeit on the high side for $71 billion, is likely to do the same. While Wall Street continues to undervalue Disney with a forward P/E Ratio of 14.96, investors with a long-term view would be best served to consider Disney’s $163.2 billion market cap a bargain.
Last week: Florida is in an affordable housing crisis of its own making. For years lawmakers balanced budgets at the expense of low income people by stealing nearly $2 billion from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. They can do the right thing now by passing a renter’s bill of rights and paying back every dime they stole. A report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition exposes the consequences of Florida’s misdeeds. The state, and especially Central Florida, are the least affordable places in the country for cost-burdened renters. A bill of rights would protect renters from predatory landlords and unlawful evictions. More should be done. But this is a first step to right a terrible wrong.
Ed Schons, president, Florida High Tech Corridor Council
Last week: For those who worry about technology eliminating jobs, news that supermarket giant Kroger will partner with British online grocer Ocado to build a 350,000-square-foot warehouse north of Groveland suggests otherwise. Kroger and Ocado said the “advanced robotics” customer fulfillment center will employ about 400 people in “high-paying” jobs when it opens in 2021 to ship Kroger grocery items in Central Florida. Twenty such facilities are planned nationwide.
Rick Singh, property appraiser, Orange County
Last week: The new bridge across Colonial Drive for bikers and pedestrians opened this week just east of I-4. As downtown Orlando continues to morph into an urban center, the focus on safe transportation without the introduction of more cars will be critical to attract residents and workers. The diagonally-placed bridge also crosses train tracks and will allow bikers and pedestrians safe access to the Lynx and SunRail stations, while avoiding about 40,000 cars per day. In addition, the central location facilitates bike travel to local parks and neighborhoods through the use of existing bike lanes. This is a welcome amenity to downtown living.
Looking ahead: Dead last. That’s where the Orlando Metro area ranks for housing affordability in the entire country. According to the newest Affordable Housing Gap Analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the area offers only 13 affordable and available rentals for every 100 families who need them. Our region will lose its attraction for business and industry if the labor market cannot afford to house itself. Affordable housing is Central Florida’s highest priority, and should be at the center of every conversation about growth and development.
Michael Slaymaker, professional fundraising executive
Last week: As I scroll through photos of the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, I can’t help but see the eerie comparison to the Pulse shooting in Orlando. The candles, flowers, the number of lives taken. People from all walks of life crying, praying and hugging. I so respect Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the way she is handling this atrocity. She reminds me how proud I am of Mayor Jacobs, Mayor Dyer and Commissioner Sheehan. In New Zealand, semi-automatic, "assault-style" weapons are due to be banned. Gun reforms will be announced within 10 days. Wish our local politicians had that power.
Anthony Suarez, president, Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida
Last week: THousands of Venezuelan immigrants are in Florida and Central Florida currently. The largest growth group of students in our schools is Venezuelans. it is obvious that the nation is in crisis, but will our nation and Central Florida be accommodating to this humanitarian crisis, or will our law and order neighbors let these legal immigrants who overstay their visas, be treated like criminals? I have been attending meetings, church gatherings and listening to so many horror stories of violence, starvation from this community and I wonder, will the Legislature continue its quest to shut down our communities?
Looking ahead: UCF has made great strides nationally with its football program. Now the basketball program is looking to make its stamp on the nation. Its first appearance in the NCAA men’s tournament in 14 years, followed by the performance in football. will ensure UCF is known around the nation. With all the controversy surrounding the school, this will be welcomed news.
Last week: On the heels of being named the worst region in America for affordable housing, the Florida House thought it would be a good idea to once again take all the money out of the affordable housing fund and spend those dollars elsewhere. Estimated at $352 million, the Sadowski Fund was stripped to $123.6 million for affordable housing. That money will then go to panhandle hurricane relief, meaning the state will spend zero dollars in addressing the most pressing need we have. It makes no sense to continue complaining about the lack of housing and then take the money that was intended to solve that problem.
Last week: The playing field for students attempting to qualify for top-rated colleges and universities just became more uneven with the recent college admissions scandal. And with the continuing erosion of our public school system, the education opportunities for the general student population remains increasingly challenging and often unattainable. More unfortunate perhaps is the lesson we are teaching our students that it is okay to bribe, cheat and lie to gain access to their preferred college or to request false accommodations when taking the SAT and ACT tests in order to gain an advantage over less affluent students. Time to turn those negative lessons into a positive for ALL students.
Looking ahead: Tragically, rates of death by suicide in the U.S. have increased by more than 25 percent in the past 20 years, according to the CDC. AdventHealth is collaborating with the University of Central Florida to address this alarming epidemic. Our goal is to track patients who come into our ER with suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and provide intensive support services after they’re discharged. I’d like to thank UCF’s team for working with us to assess the effectiveness of this approach, as we work to learn how best to support distressed patients and bring them back to health — and most importantly, apply our learnings far and wide.
Jen Vargas, Jen Vargas, producer/host, FilmSlam at Enzian Theater
Last week: The 180+ films of this year’s Florida Film Festival were announced this week. Great news! Todd Thompson, a Florida filmmaker, will debut his feature-length documentary, "Woman in Motion," and on opening night no less! This is big news because, historically, Florida made films are rarely seen during this 10-day event. Being an Oscar qualifying festival in three film categories (Documentary, Animated and Live Action shorts), Florida Film Fest is a very popular Oscar stop among filmmakers. Thompson is a longtime alum and past winner of FilmSlam and no stranger to Florida Film Fest, which begins April 12.
Looking ahead: Studio Movie Grill at Sunset Walk opens to the public on March 28! Located at Margaritaville Resort Orlando, this 12-screen, luxury dine-in theater has over 1,000 leather recliners, a full bar, chef inspired menu, and hand-crafted cocktails, all of which may be delivered right to your seat. Residents of Tampa and Seminole are already familiar with this brand which will be a first for us here in Central Florida and a slick addition to the unique dining, shopping, and resort options at Margaritaville’s outdoor Sunset Walk complex. Welcome to Orlando, Studio Movie Grill!
Carol Wick, principal, Convergent Nonprofit Solutions
Last week: The Kesse family won the right to have a private investigator examine all the files from the Orlando Police department regarding the disappearance of their daughter Jennifer. She has been missing since 2006 but her family has not given up hope that she may one day be found or at least, that they would have closure. While this is controversial on many sides, this long-standing mystery haunts us all here in Central Florida and we hope the Kesse’s can at least find some answers to what happened to their daughter all those years ago.