ORLANDO, Fla. — In his annual State of Downtown address Monday, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer conceded that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the heart of the city in some ways over the past two years but that the city is in a strong position to take advantage of changes that have taken place.

“The pandemic has ushered in a realignment in how people live and work and how companies locate and expand and do business,” Dyer said. “So, it makes sense that as so much of our lives and economy are influx, so is the state of our downtown. But being influx is not the same as being in trouble.”

Dyer focused his speech on five key factors: development, business growth, housing and homelessness, downtown amenities, and mobility.

Looking to the next five to 10 years, development plans have increased, not slowed, during the pandemic, Dyer said.

“Because of the work we have done together, Orlando is well-positioned to take advantage of the new dynamics,” Dyer said.

The Creative Village “has sprung to life” during the COVID pandemic and will affect each of the key challenges and causes for celebration, he said.

According to Dyer, “Development did not slow during the pandemic. It actually sped up.”

Downtown Orlando historically sees the addition of one major office tower every 10 years, but two towers have just been completed and two more are ready to get started – one in Creative Village and one on Church Street – Dyer said.

In terms of small businesses, Dyer said he believes downtown is a bit "bar heavy" and that he would like to see more family-oriented entertainment venues.

In terms of downtown amenities not related to sporting events, Dyer said the previous record for shows and concerts was 43 and that the city is on pace to break that mark by 50% in 2021.

The meeting at Exploria Stadium was largely an open forum. After his initial remarks, he opened it up for questions from the people who attended, and his comments came in response to those questions.

One person asked how likely it is that Orlando will get to host some games in soccer's World Cup in 2026. Dyer said he is very optimistic. He pointed out that 10-12 cities in the United States could be selected to host games and that two cities in Canada and three in Mexico will be chosen.

Others raised questions about what the city can do to have an impact on the effects of homelessness on a family-friendly atmosphere and the limited hours of SunRail to allow people to take it downtown and get home at night and on weekends.   

Dyer said those concerns depend upon other factors.

Homelessness is a concern for other reasons, too, Dyer said. He indicated that downtown should be for everyone and that the city has made some investments to try to improve housing affordability for more people.

The city cannot solve homelessness by itself, Dyer said.

In terms of the ability to get to and from downtown, Dyer pointed to the expected completion of the I-4 Ultimate project next year and the construction of the Brightline high speed rail as key factors that will help growth continue.