Citrus Bowl renovation deal struck

ORLANDO, Fla. -- With a brand new plan to bring long-awaited renovations to its 76-year-old Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando officials are hoping the time is finally right to host a national championship game or one of the new college football playoff games.

After several years of false starts, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs announced a plan Monday that will finance a projected $175 million facelift for the stadium that currently hosts the Capital One Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl games annually.

"I think our community, if we have the right facilities, can host anything that the world has to offer," Dyer said. "We have the best arena (the Amway Center) in the entire world. I'm not promising the best stadium, but we will have a B-plus, A-minus stadium that we can host just about anything that can be hosted in a stadium.

"So between those two facilities and the convention center, there isn't anything that we can't compete for."

A plan to fund the renovations was originally struck between the city and county in 2007 as part of a larger project that was also going to provide money for the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and help build the new Amway Center. The economic downturn caused money to evaporate, with the city no longer being able to secure credit to borrow needed money for all three projects. The Citrus Bowl renovations became the immediate casualty.

Dyer said bonds are expected to be issued in 2014, with construction beginning in either January or February of that year. The hope is that it will then be complete in time as not to interfere with any subsequent bowl seasons.

Among the upgrades expected for the 65,000-seat stadium are: new suites and about 8,000 club seats; more restrooms and concession stands; and new banquet and ballroom spaces.

Florida Citrus Sports runs both the Capital One and newly named Russell Athletic bowls.

CEO Steve Hogan said that with the upcoming upgrades, the stadium should be able to generate $250 million in revenue each year, with 70 percent to 80 percent of that money coming from visitors' spending money in Orlando.

Hogan said that getting a projected conclusion date for the project was critical to FCS being able to position itself to get in on future college bowl game talks.

"Most major sporting events are planning three, four (or) five years out," he said. "So if you don't have some certainty on that date, you can't go and start having the conversation. So I'm excited about the fact that we can all start joining arms and pitching Orlando now."