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Bob Carr Theater to Become High-Tech Facility
TOPICS & CATEGORIES
In the latest indicator of Central Florida’s evolution as a major U.S. tech hub, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced plans on Sept. 27, 2023, to renovate and convert the historic Bob Carr Theater into a new facility that will contribute to the City Beautiful’s budding tech industry.
Dyer framed his State of Downtown address by citing hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s words early in the speech. He applied Gretzky’s comments to making Orlando competitive in changing times and positioning the city to better meet the future needs of its residents.
“‘I don’t skate to where the puck is – I skate to where the puck is going to be,’” Dyer quoted Gretzky.
Although Orlando is arguably best known as “America’s theme park capital,” the modeling, simulation and training industry – and the tech companies that support that growing ecosystem – represent approximately $7 billion per year to Central Florida.
“Downtowns that skate to where the puck is going to be, will own the future,” Dyer said. “Downtowns that cling to the past will be left behind.”
Dyer’s formal announcement confirmed the long-discussed plans to repair and resurrect the theater in the downtown area’s Creative Village to make it a “physical focal point” to support Orlando’s high-tech talent.
“We’re going to give this historic building new life by transforming it into an iconic physical ‘town square’ for Orlando’s digital economy,” Dyer said.
Improvements to the Bob Carr Theater are part of a bigger “new playbook” known as “Project DTO 2.0,” which the city is following to diversify its economy and make infrastructure investments for a long-term vision.
The mayor also said that ensuring Orlando’s future would require leveraging private sector innovation, investment and partnership – not to simply launch major projects, but also to help solve challenges.
The Bob Carr Theater, originally called the “Orlando Municipal Auditorium,” first opened in 1927. It was previously renovated in 1974 and renamed the “Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre” after the former Orlando mayor who served from 1956 to 1967. The theater received its current designation in 2014, and over several decades has hosted big-name acts as diverse as Elvis Presley, Mariah Carey and George Carlin.
City officials expect a price tag of approximately $30 million to fund the architectural and design work on the theater, which has fallen below code in multiple areas after having gone unused in recent years. The structure will need repairs to its roof – among other issues – to make it properly serviceable for its new, intended role. Possibilities for the renovated building may eventually include using it as a location for tech start-up firms, an exhibition/conference space, and/or a venue to host industry events.
“Thirty million is a fair amount of money to invest in a building… for decades of use,” said Chris McCullion, Orlando’s chief financial officer.
City officials expect the building’s improvements to be completed by its centennial anniversary in 2027, and hope that occupants of the new facility will be able to use it on a 24/7 basis.
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