Despite construction not being complete, the Orlando City Soccer team will actually play their first match in the new stadium on Sunday. The current setback is just another in a long list that has plagued the stadium project for years since Buddy Dyer and the MLS team forced it through, dividing the Parramore community and wasting tax dollars along the way before the billionaire owner finally agreed to pay for his own stadium.
The Fight Back Coalition, led by myself and Lawanna Gelzer, was the main public opposition to Dyer and his stadium plans, forcing a change from public funding to private funding in a major victory for the community that saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. For years, the community coalition has questioned the City, supported the church and local Parramore businesses and residents as well as asked what will happen to Faith Deliverance Temple in the shadow of the MLS stadium. There’s no way anyone involved in the stadium process over several years “forgot” about the church.
But despite construction crews working literally round-the-clock, city officials and the soccer team completely ignored Faith Deliverance Temple, the church located directly next door the new MLS stadium. So much for the soccer team claiming publicly they wanted to be “good neighbors” in Parramore. Sunday is pretty well-known as Church day but no one felt it necessary to plan in coordination with Faith Deliverance Temple. If this is how they treat their neighbor who is literally right next door, imagine how they will ultimately treat the others.
According to church representatives, officials claimed they “forgot” to reach out to local Parramore church. As a reminder, the City tried to seize the church using eminent domain, but Buddy Dyer’s intimidation tactics failed when Faith Deliverance Temple stood strong and refused to give up.
“This is another example of how Buddy Dyer and the City of Orlando treat the Parramore community horribly and without concern,” Gelzer said. “It is unacceptable. The exploitation of minority communities in Orlando simply will not end and residents need to wake up. It’s time for a change in the way things are done here.”
Church services will go on this Sunday at Faith Deliverance Temple, and hopefully the team will reach out and coordinate with their neighbors moving forward. Fans and team supporters should respect the church’s property and not cause any more disruptions, inconveniences or worse when visiting the stadium’s surrounding area in Parramore.
There are more problems with the MLS stadium even today. In typical City of Orlando fashion, a temporary certificate of occupancy was granted to the MLS team to allow fans to enter the unfinished stadium. City and County officials joined team representatives to cut the ribbon, even though the job wasn’t done. The soccer team’s CEO Alex Leitao already warned fans to be patient because parts of the stadium are not going to be completely finished before Sunday.
The façade continues.
Let’s also not forget that the City’s own Project DTO map of downtown shows how the MLS stadium clearly divides the Parramore community in the ongoing gentrification efforts by Dyer. The City of Orlando also permanently closed Parramore Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the African-American community, in order to squeeze the stadium were it simply did not belong after the church won the fight against Dyer. The City never even conducted an impact study before making the decision.
The stadium setbacks signal a failure in leadership and planning. The new MLS stadium should have opened last season, but by not working with the community and those opposed to the Parramore location, the soccer team alienated many during the process. The delays have forced construction workers to put in 24-hour days just to allow the stadium to open.
Orlando City soccer has seen tough times on the playing field as well, failing to make the MLS playoffs for the second consecutive season last year. While the team is hoping to get the “new stadium bounce” that most teams enjoy, the entire process has been troubled for years and there’s no denying that. There’s also the image problem the stadium’s area of downtown faces due to crime, violence, poverty and more social issues completely ignored by Buddy Dyer’s administration. He’s been too focused on gentrification, rather than building a community and protecting the residents.
Also, the fight to save Parramore is not over yet, so the team and the City of Orlando should expect more pressure ahead, not just on the field.