Will the fat lady ever sing in downtown Orlando?


Teresa Jacobs fought legendary battles against the political establishment as a county commissioner.

They pale compared with her first big one as county mayor.

Jacobs zeroed in on the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in February, pointing out issues of mismanagement and excessive costs. She now fears that center backers and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are trying to bum's-rush her into signing off on the project before her concerns are addressed.

But with Jacobs, the more you push the more she becomes an immovable object.

This all was supposed to be behind us in late February.

After Jacobs unleashed a scathing memo detailing problems with the center, Dyer was furious. But he agreed to the formation of a new board to oversee construction, replacing DPAC — the nonprofit group that had been filling that role.

The result is akin to the Tower of Babel. We have the new construction board, led by Orlando Magic president Alex Martins. DPAC is still around to raise money. And we have two confrontational governments in Orlando and Orange County.

Often they don't seem to speak the same language.

Jacobs wants to burrow into construction contracts and engineering designs to find cost savings. She wants to get rid of the Houston-based Hines company, which was hired to oversee the project.

She wants a full accounting of what it will cost to operate the center when it opens.

DPAC thinks there is nothing wrong with the project. It has no interest in changing its plans, changing its building or in completely terminating Hines' participation in the project.

And while replaced as project developer, DPAC still controls most of the information, including relationships with contractors and donors who have pledged $80 million.

DPAC board members include former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin and former Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick. They have considerable political egos of their own.

Jacobs says she has "zero confidence'' in the DPAC board. The two sides have been sniping.

Dyer is aligned with DPAC, but understands that unless the county speeds up the flow of money to the center, it will not get built. He has been trying to play both sides, putting pressure on Jacobs while distancing himself from DPAC's sniping.

This has put Alex Martins in the very uncomfortable role of mediator.

His impossible mission is to resolve all this by next month. Beating the Atlanta Hawks will be easier.

His fledgling board is bringing in yet another company to oversee construction of the center. It is supposed to go through Jacobs' list to see where money can be saved.

Included on the list is a requirement that top union wages be paid at the construction site. This was not mandated at the Magic arena. It appears to be a gift from a Democratic Orlando mayor to the unions.

Martins also is addressing Jacobs' concerns about how much it will cost to operate the center after it opens. He is having the Magic, Disney and Universal crunch DPAC's numbers.

All this needs to be done in time for Jacobs to bring a new funding deal before the County Commission by May 9.

That is when construction contracts for the center expire. Redoing them could greatly increase the cost because the price of raw materials is rising. In other words, her attempt to save money could have quite the opposite effect.

Jacobs doesn't want to be stampeded into a timeline that doesn't allow the county time to do its due diligence. She complains that DPAC has been slow to provide information and that a rush to start construction will preclude a thorough examination of cost-saving measures.

"There is so much wrong with this my head is spinning,'' she says.

Jacobs gained a lot of public support when she tackled the arts center two months ago. She can scarcely give in without something to show for her efforts.

But she also would be hard-pressed to go against the recommendations of Martins' board, given that a prominent member is Meg Crofton, the president of Walt Disney World. Crofton backed Jacobs in her mayoral race.

If they want this center to get built, I would advise Jacobs to be patient, Dyer to be quiet and DPAC to stay far, far away.

mthomas@tribune.com or 407-420-5525

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