ORLANDO, Fla. — Whether it’s a sign of the times in general or specific to Orlando, the latest shooting and safety measures taken in its wake represent a full circle moment for the downtown Orlando nightlife district – and not in a good way.
Back in the 1960s, the area was known for its seedy reputation at night, where in the words of people interviewed on the street, one look from someone hanging out on the corner made you decide to make a beeline back to the suburbs.
That all changed with the opening of Church Street Station, which was known for bringing tourists up from the theme parks to party the night away with locals. People who were young adults back then recall the thousands that would pack the streets and bars every night of the week. Crowds would swell for special events like the World Cup.
“I would describe it as it was a blast,” Bob Rexroad, a former nightclub manager, recalled. “It was really awesome for the younger crowd and there was always a lot of people out.”
Be it due to changing demographics, changing generations or the opening of Universal CityWalk in 1999 (and later Disney Springs), city leaders have struggled against a tide of events that have given the downtown area a new unsafe reputation.
That culminated with a shooting outside a bar Sunday morning that left seven people injured and an unknown gunman at large. In response, Mayor Buddy Dyer has proposed implementing a holiday safety plan every Friday and Saturday night, with police and weapons-detecting dogs blocking off three blocks of Orange Avenue, from Washington Street to Pine Street, to deter people with bad intentions.
“Incidents like this cannot and should not happen in our downtown,” he said, adding that the extra cost would be paid for by a fund that was already being used to support the downtown area.
He added that he believed the stretch of road was overrepresented by bars instead of a diverse array of businesses that would attract better behaved customers both day and night.
Most people agreed with Dyer’s move when asked Monday afternoon, though a few called the measure unnecessary and extreme.
Still, watching the transformation from seedy to heyday and back can be tough to swallow for the ones who remember the good times.
“It’s a great city. It’s a great town, and there’s a lot of great people,” Rexroad said. “Everywhere would have some bad apples and bad actors. Just keeping people safe would be a priority if I was in charge.”
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