It’s about time.
Last week, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs came to a tentative deal for the financing of a dramatic renovation to that eyesore off of state road 408, better known as the Florida Citrus Bowl.
For anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to this situation, it’s kind of surprising the two sat down and seemingly found some sort of a happy balance or common ground. A few weeks ago the two were taking veiled shots at each other, via the press, and balking on both ends while the Citrus Bowl continued to look more and more like it was being prepped to be used as a set in an apocalypse-themed movie.
The good news is that Jacobs and Dyer seemed to be giving the “go” to a project that will essentially rebuild the entire stadium from the bottom of the upper bowl and down. The entire lower bowl and all suites and luxury boxes will be knocked down and redone, giving the facility the amenities it needs to compete.
For a city that wants to be taken seriously as a sports town, this is essential. The Citrus Bowl, even in its current state, is big business. There are the games that are already held there annually, which I might add that the facility would have lost in the near future had the renovation not been approved. There are also concerts, state championships and all-star football games; WrestleMania even came a few years back and apparently was a pretty big success.
But what’s more important is the games that now will potentially come.
How about an NFL preseason game? It wasn’t that long ago that there were rumblings about the Jacksonville Jaguars, who struggle mightily to make people care up there in northeast Florida, being willing to play a regular season game in Orlando — if the Citrus Bowl wasn’t such a dump.
How about neutral-site college football games between big time programs or, better yet, a neutral-site game in what’s looking more and more like a four-team playoff format for the national championship. Right now, that idea is laughable. But once you’ve done plastic surgery and transformed the Citrus Bowl from comparable to a depressing strip mall to something more comparable to Park Avenue in Winter Park, then suddenly Orlando is a major player for such games.
Don’t forget there’s the possibility of Orlando hosting World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies in soccer. In fact, I’m going to do something unheard of and use a pair of recent soccer games in the state of Florida as the biggest evidence for why these renovations are overdue.
Friday night in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium, a nationally televised soccer match took place between the United States and Antigua & Barbuda, with the U.S. winning, 3-1. On television, you could see a great turnout and almost feel the great atmosphere that must’ve been present in Tampa.
Saturday night, I went to a USL PRO league game at the Citrus Bowl between Orlando City and Charleston. It was a great game with a great atmosphere; the Lions have a pretty intense core group of fans and in a Central Florida community that likes soccer pretty well, their fanbase seems poised to grow.
It was a pretty good time if, of course, you ignore where you are. The problem is, that’s pretty hard to do as you walk to your seats and wonder how exactly it got that bad.
It looks as though soon that will change.
Let’s hope so. Because the Citrus Bowl can be big business, but it can also be more than that. For many of you who will graduate from UCF and decide to hang around the area here in Orlando, a renovated Citrus Bowl can, much like the new Amway Center, be something more.
It could be something this community is proud of.