Around Orange County the community is in the midst of a week’s worth of events celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission will host and participate in a variety of events to commemorate the legacy of MLK, at the same time Dyer plans to demolish historic Tinker Field. The hypocrisy is deafening as Dyer claims he will honor MLK while simultaneously pushing the demolition of the only site where MLK spoke in Orlando.
Perhaps one of Orlando’s most historical moments took place at Tinker Field when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there in 1964. Two thousand listened as Dr. King asked for equality from the pitcher’s mound. After 100 years of use, Tinker Field also sports an incredible baseball history with greats including Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Rod Carew and even Michael Jordan running the base paths and playing at the field. But still, Mayor Dyer wants to demolish the historic site in order to build a parking lot for the Citrus Bowl, a proposal City Commissioner Robert Stuart supports.
In December, several residents including myself asked the Orange County Commission to revisit the fate of Tinker Field and Mayor Teresa Jacobs agreed. On Tuesday, led by Commissioner Clarke and newly elected County Commissioner Victoria Siplin, the Commission decided to send a letter back to the City seeking further information and requesting solid information supporting new claims the City made to the County about Tinker Field’s fate. Orange County is seeking what plans the city may be considering other than demolition and whether the City needed additional possible sources of funding to save the historic field. The City would be recklessly irresponsible not to seize the opportunity to once again work with Orange County and preserve Tinker Field, another public venue that is important to Orlando and Orange County.
At the very least, it appears the County Commission slowed down Dyer’s plans for the wrecking ball while the discussion continues. But Commissioner Clarke made an important point on the record, stating the City of Orlando received about one billion dollars of County-controlled tax funds for the Citrus Bowl and Performing Arts Center – and that means the City has an obligation to work with the County on important matters like this, not ignore the County’s views on historic Tinker Field.
This week, the County Commission again heard from several speakers about saving Tinker Field before their official discussion. The residents complained they could not get any real responses from Dyer’s administration about proposals to save Tinker Field. Back in December, I also presented Mayor Jacobs and County Commissioners with one possible proposal to preserve and renovate the historic field, just like other cities around America are currently doing. I also delivered copies of my proposal to save Tinker Field to Orlando City Commissioners at the time.
This week’s County Commission discussion was pushed by Commissioner Pete Clarke. In the discussion, the public learned City of Orlando staff advised Orange County about several points that remain in contention. First, the City is claiming because of the Citrus Bowl construction Tinker Field’s current configuration would not allow for baseball with the reduced field. However, former Orlando Monarchs baseball General Manager Mark Popkin testified to the Orange County Commission last year that baseball still has a future at Tinker Field even after the Citrus Bowl construction.
Another point of contention is the City’s claim to Orange County that the historic grandstand structure is too deteriorated and is “economically impossible” to save. But Buddy Dyer just spent nearly a billion dollars on venues and the few million dollars needed to save Orlando’s most historic public venue makes it “economically impossible?” Public records confirm that Mayor Dyer is responsible for the deterioration of historic Tinker Field, to make this matter worse. The grandstands were built over 50 years ago, which would allow historic designation and protection. The City of Orlando Historic Preservation Board voted to save the historic grandstands where thousands sat while hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Finally, the City told Orange County it has formed a “group” to consider “memorials” for Tinker Field, which everyone knows will be a biased panel that will likely do nothing but rubber stamp Dyer’s original intentions. For example, even the Parramore soccer stadium task force failed to provide any community input into the project despite a lot of PR pushed by Dyer and the City. None of the concerned residents voicing opposition to Dyer’s planned demolition and offering alternatives were selected to participate in the new “group.” Earlier, Commissioner Patty Sheehan stated during City Council that Mayor Dyer’s original proposed “memorial” for Tinker Field was a “weird baseball astroturf thing in the corner” which does not leave much hope in what will come from Dyer’s latest group.
At the City Council, Commissioners Sam Ings and Patty Sheehan have been the most vocal in stopping the demolition of Tinker Field. Commissioner Regina Hill endorsed the “Saving Tinker Field” effort in her campaign but has remained fairly quiet on the matter when it matters.
According to reports, at a recent West Lakes community meeting, 100% of residents attending the meeting voted to save the grandstand structure when asked. As my proposal pointed out to commissioners, restoration efforts would cost less than $10 million based on similar preservation and restoration projects in cities around America. This is a tiny fraction of the public money already allocated to the new Major League Soccer stadium proposed for Parramore and an even smaller fraction of the money spent on the Citrus Bowl construction which expedited the current emergency.
The year-long effort to save Tinker Field has been entirely grassroots and driven by concerned residents and people who care about local history and culture. It is important to contact your Mayors and Commissioners to save historic Tinker Field. Contact the Orlando City Council and the Orange County Commission by following the links.