September 30, 2023
Coming together after tragedy

Photo: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Newscom

A vigil for victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub drew hundreds to downtown Orlando.

Central Florida Roundup

Coming together after tragedy

The mass murder in Orlando highlights the region's multicultural makeup.

Jason Garcia | 7/27/2016

After a domestic terrorist stormed into an Orlando nightclub in the predawn hours of June 12, killing 49 and wounding 53, so many people from around the city turned out to donate blood — standing in two- and three-hour lines in the heat — that the region’s blood bank, OneBlood, couldn’t store any more and began encouraging people to make an appointment later in the week once supplies had dwindled.

The Center, a support organization for the region’s LGBT community, offered grief counseling in both English and Spanish. The Catholic Diocese of Orlando hosted a multi-denominational vigil at its cathedral in downtown Orlando that included Islamic, Episcopalian, Methodist and Baptist clergy.

Gestures were both big and small. Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, the region’s largest employers, both of which had employees among the dead, pledged $1 million each to a fund set up to assist victims. The Vegan Hot Dog Cart sent food to people standing in blood-donor lines.

The shooting, committed by a Lone gunman who claimed allegiance to ISIS, was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, and the worst mass shooting in American history. It has prompted scrutiny of local police SWAT tactics, state and national gun laws and the country’s foreign and counterterrorism policies.

But it also revealed the deep multicultural community that has taken root in Orlando, belying the stereotype of the city as a one-dimensional tourist town. Orlando’s cultural tapestry was revealed in the target itself: Pulse, a popular gay nightclub just south of downtown, which was hosting a Latin night event. Most of those killed were Hispanic; more than half were from Puerto Rico.

The city has established itself as a welcoming home for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. Some of its most important civic and business leaders are gay, including George Kalogridis, president of Disney World; Patty Sheehan, a city commissioner for nearly two decades; and Frank Billingsley, chief of staff to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. The Human Rights Campaign gives Orlando a 100% score on its “municipal equality index.”

Hispanics, meanwhile, are the fastest-growing demographic group in central Florida and now make up nearly one-third of the regional population. There are nearly half a million Puerto Ricans living around the region. Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican flags fly proudly in many neighborhoods, particularly south and east of the city.

Increasingly, the faces of Orlando are people like Carlos Carbonell, a gay entrepreneur originally from Panama who is a leader in the city’s fledgling tech and startup scenes, or Carlos Smith, the gay son of a Peruvian father and a French-Canadian mother, who is likely to be elected to a state House seat this fall representing part of east Orlando.

The tragedy has shown the world how deeply bonded Orlando’s many different communities have become, says Smith. “I think what people are seeing is the character of Orlando,” he says. “We would never let hate divide us, and we would never let bigotry divide us.”

Business Briefs

CELEBRATION — Disney Vacation Club, the timeshare arm of Walt Disney Co., says it will no longer offer perks such as discounted annual passes to buyers who purchase their Disney timeshares on the resale market.

COCOA BEACH — Westgate Resorts, the timeshare company run by David Siegel, acquired the 120-room Wakulla Suites a mile to the south of the Cocoa Beach Pier, which Westgate bought and renovated in 2014.

DAYTONA BEACH — One Daytona, the mixed-use project being developed by International Speedway Corp. across from the Daytona International Speedway, signed five new retail tenants, including Guitar Center, Tervis, IT’SUGAR, Jeremiah’s Italian Ice and Venetian Nail Spa. The project is about 25% of the way through site work and expected to open next year.

EATONVILLE — Cloud-computing company HostDime will build a seven-story data center and corporate office on five acres of former school district property adjacent to I-4.

LAKE MARY — Crescent Communities wants to build a commercial development that would include two 14-story towers in this suburb north of Orlando. UF Health Cancer Center-Orlando Health opened a cancer treatment center.

ORANGE CITY — After winning a court battle, the Daytona Beach Kennel Club & Poker Room began construction of a new card room and simulcast center closer to the city of Orlando using a converted jai alai permit.

ORANGE COUNTY — Amazon began offering oneand two-hour delivery on some items to ZIP codes within the county.

SeaWorld Orlando opened a major new roller coaster, the shark-themed Mako. The 777-room Nickelodeon Suites was rebranded as a Holiday Inn resort after a $30-million renovation. The Florida Department of Transportation has begun construction on eight miles of higher-toll “express lanes” on the Beachline Expressway toll highway between I-4 and Orlando International Airport.

ORLANDO — The NFL agreed to stage its 2017 and 2018 Pro Bowl games at Camping World Stadium (formerly the Orlando Citrus Bowl) after local leaders agreed to subsidize the event with hotel taxes.

The University of Central Florida has begun offering a master’s of science degree in data analytics.

The Florida Department of Transportation committed $3.5 million toward the development of a linear park beneath I-4. Tampabased real estate company Franklin Street opened an Orlando office.

PORT CANAVERAL — The port completed a $50-million rebuild of its 25-year-old cruise terminal five, allowing the terminal to accommodate ships of up to 3,500 passengers, up from 2,500.

SANFORD — Seminole State College announced a partnership with Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, allowing students in central Florida with undergraduate degrees to earn a master’s in international business.


GrayRobinson named Mayanne Downs president and managing director, making her the first female partner to run the firm. Downs succeeds Byrd F. “Biff” Marshall Jr., who will become chairman. Founding partner Charlie Gray will become chairman emeritus.

Amusement industry ticketing software and ecommerce company Accesso Technology Group promoted Steve Brown to CEO. He succeeds Tom Burnett, who will become executive chairman.

The Orlando Ballet appointed Caroline Miller its new executive director. Miller, who had run the organization Dance UK in the United Kingdom, becomes the ballet’s seventh director in five years.

Andrae Bailey will step down as CEO of the Central Florida Commission on Homeless at the end of this year.

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