Elements of Urbanism: Downtown Orlando

January 5, 2011 34 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits Central Florida's most walkable neighborhood: Downtown Orlando

Tale of the Tape

Orlando Population 2009: 235,860 (City); 2,082,628 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1875)

Jacksonville Pop. 2009: 813,518 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Orlando (52,367)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2009)

Orlando: +26.62%
Jacksonville: +18.29%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Orlando: 1,157,431 (ranked 35 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Orlando: 2554.0
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2009

Orlando: +41,666
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Orlando: Orange County Convention Center (1983) - 2,100,000 square feet (not downtown)
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Orlando: Hilton Orlando (1,400 units), The Peabody (1,641 units)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Orlando: Suntrust Center - 441 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2010 (City limits only):

Orlando: Darden Restaurants (311)
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

Orlando: Interstate 4 cuts Downtown Orlando in half.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Orlando: Orange Avenue corridor
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Orlando: 94 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Orlando: 93.5 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current (Red) and original (Green) city limit boundaries over Orlando's land area (Blue).

About Downtown Orlando

Early years

Prior to the arrival of European settlers in 1837, the Orlando area was occupied by the Native-American Creek and Seminole tribes. In 1838, Fort Gatlin was built a few miles south of downtown Orlando on the shores of modern day Lake Gatlin; where ruins of the fort remain to this day. Settlers knew the area as "Jernigan" until 1875 when the "Town of Orlando" was incorporated and centered around today's Church Street. Orlando became a city in 1885 and downtown was the only population center for many years. Church Street was the commercial hub for the new Orlando where original pioneers, such as Joseph Bumby of England, settled in the town and built a hardware store known as "Bumby Hardware Store". The store remained an Orlando fixture until the 1960s, but the name "Bumby" is still famous in the city.[3]

Downtown's Heyday

By the 1920s, Orlando had grown from a cattle town to a major citrus growing center. The city constructed the Orlando Public Library in 1923, the Orlando Municipal Auditorium (now Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre) in 1926, and several grand hotels; namely the Angebilt and San Juan Hotels. By this time, the city's population had grown to 20,000 people.

Great Depression to Post-War Years

The Federal Government's Works Progress Administration programs during the Great Depression helped Orlando remain economically stable. New parks were developed, the Municipal Airport (now Orlando Executive Airport) was built, and the city also built a new football stadium at Tinker Field (now Florida Citrus Bowl). By 1944, enough jobs were created to increase the city's population to 45,000 people. Orlando became a major military center when World War II brought the development of McCoy Air Force Base and Pinecastle AFB, located southeast of downtown. This status strengthened with the 1968 opening of the Orlando Naval Training Center east of downtown.

Decline and Redevelopment

Walt Disney World's 1971 opening in southwest Orange County brought major development to Orlando, but not to downtown. During this time, development in downtown was mainly focused upon the construction of office towers, such as the Citrus Center and the original Sunbank building. However, downtown began to fall into a state of decline. The "Angebilt" and "San Juan Hotels" were abandoned and left to crumble. The San Juan was eventually demolished, but the "Angebilt Building" would years later be transformed into an office building with retail on the ground floor. Lake Eola Park became a haven for prostitutes and drug addicts. In addition, downtown department stores and family owned businesses closed or moved to the newly constructed Orlando Fashion Square east of downtown. As a result, the downtown population base moved out to the suburbs after the opening of Interstate 4.

Redevelopment in downtown Orlando began in the early 1970's and continued into the 1980's. Bob Snow opened Rosie O'Grady's in 1974 at Church Street Station, which quickly became a popular tourist attraction and local hot spot. Several skyscrapers were constructed, including SunTrust Center and Barnett Plaza (now Bank of America Center) in 1988. Lake Eola Park was redesigned and the Walt Disney Amphitheater opened in the park around the same time the annual "Orlando Shakespeare Festival" was established. On the other hand, downtown's population base still had yet to rebound to previous levels and major corporations were still opening locations outside of the city center.[4]

The new Orlando City Hall building, the city's third, opened in 1991, directly behind the second City Hall, which was originally constructed in 1958. The old City Hall's demolition was filmed for use in the opening scenes of the film Lethal Weapon 3.

Recent years

Until the late 1990s, downtown was relatively small compared to other cities of Orlando's size. Starting in 1998, downtown was changed when a building boom began and continued through the 2000's decade. Commercial towers were built along Orange Avenue and residential towers were constructed around Lake Eola and along Magnolia Ave. CNL Financial Group established a major footprint in downtown with the construction of CNL City Center Commons, a complex of office towers surrounding Orlando City Hall. CNL continues to expand their presence downtown even today. The boom roughly doubled the size of downtown density and dramatically changed Orlando's skyline. In 2005, the term "Manhattanization" was locally applied to Orange Avenue when a large number of construction cranes loomed over downtown. As of 2009, skyscraper development slowed; but is being replaced by other development projects.


Uptown, located north of Colonial Dr. along Ivanhoe Blvd., is an urban cluster around Lake Ivanhoe similar to the Central Business District; but with less density. The area is dotted with open spaces planned for development in addition to construction of new residential and office towers. Lake Ivanhoe has a large gay community along with retail and nightlife.

Landmarks in this area include Lake Highland Preparatory School, Senator Beth Johnson Park, and the headquarters of the Orlando Ballet.

Lake Eola Heights

Lake Eola Heights is the location of Lake Eola Park east of the CBD. The park holds historical significance and is a frequent venue for local events and festivals. The park's most iconic landmark is the Lake Eola Fountain, permanently embedded to the bottom with concrete beams in the center of the lake. The fountain is illuminated nightly in various colors. In addition to the fountain, the park features swan boat rentals and the Walt Disney Amphitheater. Every Independence Day, the park is host to a large fireworks display which draws over 100,000 people to downtown. A 0.85-mile (1.37 km) recreational pathway circles the park and leads to a playground.

Residential and commercial development is usually regulated to towers no greater than 250 feet (76 m) tall. There are many historical "Florida style" bungalows and century-old oak lined brick streets. This area is unique in Orlando as it contains some of the oldest structures in the city and is Orlando's historic district. Howard Middle School, which was the original Orlando High School, is located here.

Stylish Orlando neighborhood... Adjacent to Lake Eola... Minutes from great shopping and dining. One of the most stylish apartment communities in Orlando, Post Parkside puts gorgeous Lake Eola right outside your door and puts you within walking distance of downtown office buildings, fantastic restaurants, and some of Orlando's best entertainment venues. A wonderful mixed-use development, Post Parkside is the place to be, whether you crave big-city excitement or lakeside relaxation. The best in neo-traditional neighborhood planning, Post Parkside combines elegant apartment home living with neighborhood shops, offices, and delightful recreational amenities.

Publix just opened another unique store, this time in downtown Orlando, Fla. The 29,431 square foot unit, with underground parking garage and undersized carts, is ready to greet downtown workers and shoppers from surrounding condominium towers with everything from fresh flowers to a deli.

The store is on the ground floor of a 17-story condominium. Residents of the condominium where Publix is located have their own separate entrance to the market.

It features the usual departments of a larger supermarket including a deli, bakery, meat and seafood sections, and also houses the only pharmacy in downtown Orlando.

An innovative dock area for loading and unloading at the store has room inside for trucks to turn around, lessening the need to block surrounding streets. The parking garage has elevators large enough for shoppers and their carts.

Dwaine Stevens, a Publix spokesman, said the chain's stores typically draw customers from a 3-to-5-mile radius. With the recent opening of hundreds of residential units in condo and apartment towers nearby, the new market has more than the usual number of potential customers within walking distance.

Publix has plenty of experience with urban locations. The grocer has sites in urban areas including Miami Beach and Atlanta. Publix usually stocks more prepared meals and gourmet foods than average in urban locations, according to company reports.

The last supermarket in downtown Orlando, according to the Orange County Regional History Center, was a Winn-Dixie that closed in 1980.

Thornton Park

Thornton Park is located immediately east of Lake Eola Heights and is centered around Lake Lawsona along Thornton Ave. The area is similar to Lake Eola Heights, in that it contains historical homes and the streets are paved with brick. However, Thornton Park has a more "cosmopolitan" feel, as it is the location of exclusive restaurants, high-end fashion boutiques, and Star Tower; which has some of the most expensive condo units in Orlando. It has also become one of the most desirable places to live in downtown; attracting young professionals and urban dwellers. As a result, the area has become a lively 24/7 neighborhood, with a diverse mix of people.


Established in the 1880s, Parramore is the historical hub of Orlando's African-American community. The area is located just west of the Central Business district along Division Ave. Once a thriving neighborhood, years of neglect, crime, and homelessness have resulted in economic blight. Today, city leaders, business owners, and local residents are working together to improve the area.

It is a residential area with a large number of high intensity entertainment and office institutions; such as the Amway Arena, Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, US Courthouse for the Mid-District of Florida, Florida A&M University School of Law, county & state buildings, and Orlando Police Department headquarters. Smaller businesses include grocery stores, barber shops, and soul-food restaurants.

The new U.S. Federal Courthouse in Parramore.

On December 21, 1949, a division of law was established at the then Florida A&M College and the first class was admitted in 1951. The legislature established the school because no "separate but equal" state-supported law school existed for African-Americans at that time. The school's enrollment was limited to African- American male students and was located in Tallahassee, Florida. The FAMU law school was closed through a vote by the Florida legislature in 1965, with the funds transferred to a new law school at Florida State University. In 1966 the institution lost the right to admit students after a decision by the Florida Board of Control, and two years later, in 1968, the last students graduated. 57 students graduated from the school between 1954 and 1968.

The 2000 Florida Legislature unanimously passed legislation establishing a College of Law for Florida A&M University to be located in Orlando and on June 14, 2000, Governor Jeb Bush signed the bill into law. The legislation included three conditions: the school was required to serve "historically underrepresented communities"; it had to open by 2003; and it had to win ABA accreditation within five years. The College of Law admitted its first class in 2002.

The Amway Center is part of Downtown Master Plan 3: a plan that also involves improvements to the Citrus Bowl and a new performing arts center. The arena is home to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, the Orlando Predators of the AFL, and will host the 2012 NBA All-Star Game.

Populous (formerly HOK Sport) was named the primary contractor on August 3, 2007, with Smith Seckman Reid and Walter P Moore Engineers and Consultants as planning partners. As part of the contract, Populous agreed to contract at least 18% of the construction work to firms owned by minorities and 6% of the work to firms owned by women. On August 26, 2009, the Magic announced that 35% of the contracts to that point, with 75% of all contracts awarded, have gone to companies owned by minorities or women.

California-based art curator Sports and the Arts assembled the Amway Center Art Collection. The collection includes more than 340 works of art, including about 200 museum-quality photographs. 14 of the 21 artists housed in the collection represent Central Florida.

From 2008 to 2010, Ripbang Studios Inc based in Venice Beach California designed the following for the Amway Center Arena: Signage for the building's exterior, interior, wayfinding, concessions, retail, and sponsor zones • Box Office Plaza's “porch” elements including a 50-foot tall rain sculpture, fans and oversized chairs • the ORLANDO sign at the corner of Church and Division Streets • Orlando Magic Team Store sponsored by Adidas • Gentleman Jack Terrace outdoor bar • Nutrilite Magic Fan Experience • Orlando on Demand Info Garden • Airtran Airways Flight Deck sponsor zone • Kia Motors Terrace sponsor deck • Stuff’s Magic Castle kids play area • Magic Stuff kids retail shop • OZONE Bowl Sign and Fan Deck • and the O3 Beverage Bar.

In May, 2010, Sports & The Arts was awarded the role of Art Consultant for the curation and installation of artwork, photography and large format graphics. The Amway Center Art Collection includes over 140 pieces of fine art paintings and mixed media originals, over 200 photographs, and graphic wall treatments highlighting both the Orlando Magic and the spirit of Orlando and Central Florida.

Amway Center is one of the most technologically advanced venues in the world. Inside the building, a unique centerhung installation, manufactured by Daktronics of Brookings, South Dakota, is the tallest in any NBA venue. It maximizes creative programming options by using high resolution, 6mm-pixel technology on each of the 18 displays, including two digital ring displays and four tapered corners. Additional displays include approximately 2,100 feet of digital ribbon boards, the largest of which is a 360-degree, 1,100 feet display surrounding the entire seating bowl. These displays have the ability to display exciting motion graphics and real time content, such as in-game statistics, out-of-town scores and closed captioning information. Outside the building, a large display utilizes more than 5,000 Daktronics ProPixelŽ LED sticks, each a meter long, which make up a 46 feet by 53 feet video display. This display will reach millions of motorists traveling by the Amway Center on Interstate 4.

Central Business District

The central business district acts as Orlando's Financial District and is the most recognized feature of downtown. The majority of Orlando's night clubs are also in this area. Located here are corporate offices, Orlando City Hall, foreign consulates, and upscale hotels. SunTrust Center and City Commons are two large office complexes within the CBD. Church Street Station is also located in this area.

Church Street Station is a planned station on the planned SunRail commuter rail system and is also a commercial entertainment development spanning both sides of the tracks. The site was formerly used by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad for their Orlando station. Amtrak now stops about a mile south of downtown.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad
The station was originally built by the South Florida Railroad in 1889 to serve Orlando. The South Florida Railroad was bought out the Plant System in 1893, which in turn was taken over by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1902. The station also served the Tavares, Orlando and Atlantic Railroad and the Orlando and Winter Park Railway. In 1926 passenger operations were transferred to Orlando Health/Amtrak station. The Old Orlando Railroad Depot still survives to this day on the National Register of Historic Places.

The planned SunRail commuter rail projects will use Church Street Station as one of two stops in downtown Orlando, the other being LYNX Central Station. The station will be within walking distance of Orlando City Hall. The station will also provides easy access to the planned Performing Arts Center, the Citrus Bowl and the new Amway Center, home to the Orlando Magic NBA team

Church Street Station saw great popular success in the '70s and '80s as it operated as an attraction offering admission to multiple nightclubs (of various formats) facilitating "club hopping" for a single price in a monolithic location. It spanned both sides of Church Street and both sides of the railroad tracks. Walt Disney World emulated the successful formula, opening its own Pleasure Island club district amidst Church Street Station's peak years of success. The attraction's developer proceeded to develop a similar venue in Las Vegas, "Main Street Station" that at inception shared many club concepts with the Orlando facility.

As an attraction, Church Street Station eventually experienced a steep decline in attendance and had largely closed as a club-hop by the end of the 1990s.

Several attempts have been made by multiple owners to re-create the success of the mid-'80s. Today there is a relatively new improv venue in what used to be a restaurant. The area immediately around the station is slated to become downtown apartments.

With foreclosures and serial disappointments duplicating the successes of the past, the future of the development remains questionable. A source of probable stimulus will likely occur with the new Amway Center. Across Interstate 4, Orlando's new entertainment arena is being constructed on Church Street, within close walking distance of Church Street Station. The arena, home to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, is slated to open in Fall 2010. In addition, SunRail plans to revive the station as a commuter rail stop.

The former Rosie O’ Grady’s Good Time Emporium restaurant and entertainment venue — sold in June for $2.2 million to downtown commercial property owners Frank Hamby and Margaret Casscells. The new owners are transforming the 14,335-square-foot building into the New Orleans-style MoJo Bar & Grill. In addition, the AMWAY Center, new home to the Orlando Magic pro basketball team, opened Oct. 1, and nearby businesses anticipated a boost in traffic as arena customers hit the streets before and after events.

The Plaza Cinema Cafe offers a movie going experience like no other right in the heart of Downtown Orlando. Come enjoy a just released picture or go for something different with one of the current showings of independent and foreign films, there is something for everyone. Hungry? The twelve-screen theater has everything from popcorn to caviar and adults can enjoy a beverage in one of the two beer and wine bars located on either side of the theater. Attendants will deliver food to your theater to ensure that you don't miss a second of your cinematic experience.

CityArts Factory is Downtown’s largest collective of art galleries which showcases an infusion of local and international works of art, rotated on a monthly basis. Free admission Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Website: http://www.cityartsfactory.com

Wall Street Plaza is a pedestrian only block featuring eight restuarants, bars and nightclubs in the heart of downtown Orlando.

The Orange County Courthouse, located in Orlando, Florida, United States, comprises the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida and its associated offices, including Orange County's County Court. "The [courthouse] complex includes a 23-level courthouse tower, two five-story office buildings for the State Attorney and Public Defender, and a 1,500 car parking facility."

Lynx Operates a zero-fare bus route called Lymmo (Link 31) along a completely separate and dedicated right-of-way. Because this bus system runs on its own right-of-way and controls the traffic signaling, in most cases it is superior to automobile travel within the downtown area. In late 2010, a process began to expand Lymmo service along the Orange Avenue corridor, north to Florida Hospital and south to Michigan Avenue, as well as adding an east/west circulator from the Citrus Bowl to Thornton Park.

The Orange County Regional History Center is private non-profit history museum located in the historic Orange County Courthouse. The five-story museum consists of exhibits presenting local and regional history starting from 12,000 years ago. The museum also serves as the headquarters for the Historical Society of Central Florida.

The Metropolitan is a 128 unit affordable housing condominium complex that was formerly the Harley Hotel.  The old Harley Hotel opened in 1963 as the Robert Meyer Motor Inn.  It later became the Kahler Plaza and then, in the late 1970s, the Harley after the late hotelier Harry Helmlsey bought it.  It became the Four Points by Sheraton in the late 1990s but closed in November 2004.

Mad Cow Theatre Mad Cow Theatre began in late 1997 as a simple 2 - show project between a group of actor/directors in a former blueprint studio in Maitland, Florida. After an initial 4 year period of renting space from such mainstay Central Florida organizations as Rollins College, The Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival, The Civic Theatres of Central Florida, and the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, Mad Cow is now celebrating its 14th Season in Downtown Orlando. Founding Artistic Director Alan Bruun retired in late 2010.[3] Mad Cow has built collaborative relationships with other downtown businesses and has received two Golden Brick Awards for outstanding contribution to downtown life. Mad Cow Theatre has also been named "Best Theatre" by Orlando Magazine for several years in a row.

Completed in 1988, Suntrust Center is the tallest building in Central Florida, standing at a height of 441 feet.

The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (CFRTA), better known as Lynx, operates the regional bus service with its central station and offices located at 455 N Garland Avenue.

Plans have been approved and ground has been broken on the new SunRail, a North-South commuter rail that will run mostly along existing CSX/Amtrak rails and provide service between Deland and Poinciana. A large transfer station has already been constructed downtown and currently handles Lynx bus transfers.

Future Plans: The Triple Crown

Downtown is the focus region for major development projects that have already been approved by the City of Orlando. Some of these projects are under construction, with completion nearing the end of 2010. The largest of these initiatives, The Triple Crown for Downtown, is already underway.[15]

Amway Center - The first initiative of the Triple Crown. Construction began in 2008 and is scheduled for completion in October, 2010. It will be the new home of the Orlando Magic and the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League. In addition to other events, the venue will also bring major concerts back to Orlando.

Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts - Located across from City Hall on Orange Ave, it will replace the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre and will be built in phases. Phase I, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2010, will include a 2,800 seat amplified hall and a 300 seat theater for smaller productions. Phase II, construction date unknown, will include a 1,700 seat acoustic hall for ballet, orchestra, and opera performances.

Florida Citrus Bowl - Originally scheduled for a $75million renovation, decreases in tourist tax revenues have forced city leaders to re-evaluate their options for this facility. Plans now call for far less money to be spent on renovations and may now include a few cosmetic changes to the stadium.

A more ambitious project planned for downtown calls for completely transforming the Orlando Centroplex, the home of the current Amway Arena, into a "Creative Village". The project is to be privately funded and plans call for satellite schools for the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida, 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) of office space, residential apartment buildings, and a large central park with sporting facilities and an amphitheater.

The recently completed Amway Center

Site of the proposed Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts

The area around the old Amway Arena will become Creative Village.

Article and Photos by Ennis Davis