Backers of Orlando's performing-arts center now plan to build it in phases, breaking ground on the largest and smallest of the three planned halls in March and delaying construction of the midsize concert hall until the economy improves.
Plans are for the first phase of the Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center — expected to cost $260 million to $330 million, depending on how much is built — to be done in late 2013.
"It's an unprecedented achievement in these economic times to still be able to break ground on this project," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. "I think moving forward will also create additional philanthropic momentum to build another stage."
As a result of the change,the Walt Disney Co. has asked that its name not be put on the 1,700-seat concert hall, as it originally planned, but on the 2,800-seat, Broadway-style theater. The company gave $12.5 million toward the effort.
Although about $160 million in city funding and $86 million in private funding are in place, the project has been stalled by the dive in Orange County's tourist-development-tax collections. Though work has forged ahead on the Amway Center, to be home next fall to the Orlando Magic, the downtown site for the arts center, across Orange Avenue from Orlando City Hall, has remained untouched.
DPAC's backers considered several alternate plans, from putting aside the 30-year-old drive for an arts center altogether — an idea that was summarily dismissed — to staging the project in various ways.
DPAC president Kathy Ramsberger said the best plan is to build the 2,700- and 300-seat theaters first — largely because that's what DPAC can afford to do now. The 1,700-seat concert hall, planned to house symphony orchestras, opera and dance, is a much more complicated and expensive design than the larger theater. Also, the larger hall is expected to produce revenue more quickly than the other halls.
Depending on how rapidly money is raised, the first phase of the project may include all of the exterior shell, or building envelope, so that the center will look like what design architect Barton Myers planned. Or it may be limited only to the part of the envelope that surrounds those two halls.
"The more we raise over the next couple of years, the more we can build," Ramsberger said
Consultants put the price tag for the entire arts-center project at $383 million — somewhat less than the city's $425 million estimate, which includes city-contributed land, infrastructure and the cost of moving Fire Station 1 from the site of the center.
The center's eventual tenants are making the best of the situation.
The Orlando Philharmonic is "completely and 100 percent supportive" of DPAC's leadership and its effort, executive director David Schillhammer said.
Susan Carey, the Festival of Orchestras' executive director, said it's important for the project to move forward — but crucial that both large halls eventually be built. "Let's not stop," she said. "Let's keep going."
The Florida Theatrical Association, which presents Broadway touring shows, would benefit from the 2,800-seat theater being built first. But president Ron Legler said he doesn't "want to see one arts group win out over another."
"The problem with one hall is that it's limiting to all the organizations," he said.
"We need to get the shovels into the dirt so that people will know it can happen. Who cares if it takes five years or six years? We've waited 30."
Elizabeth Maupin can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5426. Read her Attention Must Be Paid blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/Attention and her Arts & Letters blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/ArtsandLetters.