ORLANDO, Fla. — In two weeks Orlando will become the center of the basketball world when the NBA All-Star Weekend arrives with an estimated $100 million local economic impact, but some nearby businesses are unhappy over plans they say will put them outside a fence from the crowds.
Directly across the street from the $480 million Amway Center, which is being paid for partially by tourist tax dollars and state sales taxes, several businesses say they are considering legal action over a city-approved 8-foot fence the NBA is erecting for the duration of festivities.
Officials from the city and NBA maintain the fence is for security purposes only and is no different than what has been done at past All-Star games.
They also say the 10 affected businesses in the retail spaces outside the arena's Church Street entrance were involved throughout the planning process and declined a plan that would have placed them inside the perimeter of the barrier. Each business currently rents its space from the city.
"Our first priority is safety," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told The Associated Press. "This is a high-profile international event and on our watch we're not going to have a bad incident and we're not going to be criticized for not putting in the same type of safety procedures that they had in L.A., Dallas and probably New Orleans, and wherever else the NBA All Star game has been in the past."
He said the NBA has flexibility in handling security, under the agreement with the city, and also said officials are working with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Timothy Adebule, owner the Three Masks, an African boutique and specialty shop near Amway's Church Street entrance, confirmed that a lawsuit is being considered but referred further comment to attorney Lorenzo Williams.
Other businesses contacted by The Associated Press said the same or declined to comment at all.
Phone and email messages left at Williams' office seeking comment were not immediately returned.
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office said Thursday they had not been notified of a lawsuit being filed.
Even with the fence there will be plenty of activity around the arena, with more than 100,000 people expected at All-Star events at both Amway and the Orlando Convention Center on International Drive, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said.
"There's increased foot traffic and economic impact that comes with it," Bass said. "I understand businesses will be open and no discriminatory practices as far as that foot traffic. So I don't know if anyone anticipates anything different than what normally takes place during large scale events like this."
Dyer said that while Church Street in front of the arena will be closed throughout the weekend, access to the vendors won't be hindered and the sidewalk in front of them will remain open.
"(The merchants) certainly will have much more business than they would have if the building was empty those three days," he said. "I don't think the fencing will impact. If people want to buy a yogurt, they can walk down the sidewalk and buy a yogurt."
The city offered compensation of $3,000 or $1,500, based on square-footage, to each affected business to help offset any lost revenue the fence might create.
City officials and the Orlando Magic previously paid supplements to several businesses affected by street closures during the 1-year-old arena's construction.
"We're sympathetic to their needs, we subsidized them during construction of the Amway Center," Magic CEO Alex Martins said. "But the fact of the matter is they've been involved in the decision of how this security perimeter was constructed from the outset."
Only one of the businesses, a dry cleaner, had accepted the city's compensation offer by a Wednesday deadline.
The largest business on Church Street is Draft Global Beer Lounge and Grill, which has a bird's eye view of the Amway entrance marquee.
Co-owner Willie Fisher said they will not join any lawsuit against the city.
"We sympathize with them, but ... with everything the city has done to get Draft where it is right now, it ethically wouldn't be right for us to be involved," Fisher said.
Draft fell behind on its rent after the prolonged NBA lockout and economic downturn, and only was able to benefit from Amway traffic after a handful of Magic regular season games and shortened playoffs. But Fisher said the city has helped them out in delaying some of their debt.
"I'm not against what the other vendors are doing; I'm just not part of it," Fisher said. "I think when things get tough, you don't go in different directions, your try to pull together."
Fisher said Draft is holding special events each night of All-Star Weekend and he isn't too concerned about patrons not being able to find their door.
"There will be 18,000 of people inside (Amway). Traffic will be there," he said.
Associated Press reporter Mike Schneider contributed to this report.
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