As I was looking into state funding sources connected to the Citrus Bowl renovations as a way to possibly stop or delay the destruction of historic Tinker Field, I happened to find some very concerning details of Buddy Dyer’s secret debt connected to the Orlando Venues projects. In fact, to get these projects moving, Dyer has orchestrated more than $115.7 million of debt that was never disclosed to County Commissioners who voted on the new Venues Agreement. Dyer is digging the City deeper into future debt for these projects even as his administration runs $12 million budget deficits.
Mayor Dyer’s total debt outstanding under the “Orlando Series H commercial paper note program” with the Sunshine State Government Financing Commission is $115,740,000 as of the most recent public records. That’s an outstanding balance from just 4 current loans with SSGFC.
The City of Orlando is entering into agreements that carry variable rate program loans to fund capital projects our city cannot afford. Worse, Dyer is leveraging city assets and future developments along with Covenant Revenues to take on the huge amount of debt. By taking on variable rate loans, the City also has no way of predicting interest rates or how much money will actually be owed in the future. Interest rates will only continue to increase moving forward and rates will never be as low as the interest rates were over the last five years.
The two oldest loans included $21,000,000 to build the parking garage structures for 55 West and the Plaza downtown (how nice of taxpayers to pay for those), as well as $18 million to pay off old debt in some sort of swap it seems. The other two loans are both $50 million earmarked for the Community Venues.
“Loan 6“ was one of the $50,000,000 loans for the Venues projects and is providing $10 million for the current Citrus Bowl renovations. However, on the Community Venues Project Sources and Use of Funds report, Orlando lists the $10 million as “Proceeds from Redevelopment-Sale of Land” not as a loan. The County Commission was also never made aware of these loans or outstanding debt, according to Commissioners.
This loan does not require repayment of principal until 2024 at a rate of $5,000,000 per year, not including interest. Buddy Dyer is burdening the City with future debt, even as his administration currently runs budget deficits.
According to Orlando City Treasurer Chris McCullion, the source of credit is the City’s Covenant Revenues, but the repayment source for the interest expense is Community Redevelopment Agency funds while the source for principal repayment is “proceeds from the redevelopment of the old Centroplex site.”
That means the City of Orlando has leveraged future proceeds from “Creative Village” for a loan paying for the Venues projects. However, last month Creative Village’s developer Craig Ustler admitted at a public meeting downtown that the project site would never end up like the renderings and they are having problems finding potential tenants. In fact, he said the city may be lucky to develop 6-8 buildings in the years to come. Ustler explained that the rendering shows the “maximum build-out” because it “makes the proposal look more valuable” and makes it more attractive to banks and investors.
Doesn’t this seem like Buddy Dyer has built a financial house of cards? One would think there would be an independent set of eyes reviewing these massive loans, but all that was needed to execute the deals were the signatures of Buddy Dyer and his appointed city clerk, Alana Brenner. Even more of a possible conflict, the treasurer for the Sunshine State Government Financing Commission is Chris McCullion, the same treasurer for the city. No wonder McCullion refused to take my calls at the City.
This all connects back with a major proposal I made after the municipal election controversy, where the same appointed City Clerk is in charge of the election of her boss. The City Clerk position needs to be made an elected position to provide a much-needed check on the “tyrannical behavior” of Dyer’s administration or the process must change.
But Buddy Dyer’s secret debt has larger implications as well. Read more: Did Buddy Dyer Violate Florida Constitution With Secret Venues Debt