My Remarks to the Orange County Board of Commissioners Today

Today, at 2pm, the Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold the public hearing and vote on  the venues package, which includes the soccer stadium proposal. Here are my written remarks for today’s meeting to Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orange County Commissioners:

Thank you Mayor Jacobs and County Commissioners for having us today. This will be a very important vote in the direction of our county. I have met with and spoken to many of you on this issue for many weeks. Today, I don’t really need to list all the known realities again.

You all know there are more than 40 national and academic economic reports stating there is no local economic impact from publicly financed stadiums and I have delivered many copies of those reports to you and your staff. In fact, those studies and reports say there could be a negative local impact as money will be drained from the surrounding businesses to benefit the teams.

I don’t need to remind you that the market for American soccer and the MLS simply does not exist and that comparing MLS to World Cup is nonsensical. You know that a repeat showing of the World Series of Poker championship garnered more television viewers than last year’s MLS final game. I don’t need to remind you that two previous MLS teams failed in Florida, or that the league lost $350 million in its first 8 seasons, with only a handful of profitable teams. And I don’t need to remind you that attendance numbers were fluffed and free ticket giveaways do not prove demand.

You don’t need me to tell you that the Austin Aztecs, now Orlando City soccer, moved to our community just a few years ago with the sole purpose to have a stadium built for them. And that they would likely leave should they not get a stadium. Or that more out-of-town millionaire owners have their hands out, with special access and treatment to city and county leaders and staff.

You don’t need me to repeat the impact of gentrification and displacement in historic Parramore, because we have shown you it time and time again. If you need to, you can walk a few blocks and see it for yourself. I’m sorry none of you were at the Parramore town hall meeting last night hosted by the NAACP.

At that meeting, resident after resident decried the policies of our city and cried out against a soccer stadium in Parramore. The voice of Parramore was clear, but are you listening?

Mayor Jacobs looked me in the eye in her office a few months ago, and I believed her when she said, and I quote from the transcript:

“I think the Paramore issue is an interesting issue. We can change Paramore. But have we helped the people who live in Paramore or have we just put them someplace else? Is that fixing the problem? I think it’s a very interesting issue and we’ve seen it happen time and time again throughout history and to watch it happening right here.”

After over $600 million being invested in downtown venues, the average household income in Parramore dropped to below the poverty line. Yet, here we go again, time and time again, watching it happen right here.

To quote one of my favorite songs, “No matter who you are, no matter where you go in your life, at some point you’re going to need somebody to stand by you.”

Parramore is asking you to stand by them. Our county’s most vulnerable are asking you to finally stand by them.

Will you be part of the solution, or will you be part of the problem? We can solve this and help everybody, but not by funding another new soccer stadium in Parramore.

I will end by saying I’ve been inspired by Pope Francis. As a Catholic, his message emphasizing listening to those suffering in the world strikes deep in my heart. He urges we do more to seek out those on the fringes of society who need help the most, recently saying “If we step outside of ourselves, we will find poverty.”

To the people of Parramore and all those suffering in our community who see million dollar handouts without any real benefit or change, I urge you not to be robbed of your hope no matter how the vote goes today.

To the commissioners, I urge you to do the right thing. Who will you stand by? Who are you listening to?

P.S. Parramore residents spoke out forcefully against the soccer stadium at an NAACP town hall meeting in Parramore last night.

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