ORLANDO, Fla. – When Orlando and Orange County officials approved a joint pact in 2007 for a multi-million renovation of the city's historic Florida Citrus Bowl stadium, the hope was to produce a venue worthy of hosting marquee sporting events.
Seven years later, officials believe the seeds of that future have been planted.
After spending $207 million and nearly 10 months of reconstruction, the nearly 80-year-old stadium reopened its doors to the public Wednesday. It joins a recently completed downtown performing arts center and Amway Center (home to the Orlando Magic) that were approved as part of a $1 billion community development project seven years ago.
"When you think about great cities, it's historic events and venues that define them, and here in Orlando some of our most defining moments have been happening really over the course of the last year," Dyer said. "I guess we're putting the cherry or maybe the orange on top today."
About 90 percent of the stadium was demolished for the renovation that included everything except the upper decks. The face lift includes an increase in capacity to more than 65,000 (75,000 for non-sports events), along with the addition of 6,000 club seats, 33 luxury suites a 10,000 square-foot party deck, and new video screens.
Lower bowl demolition began in January and is about 95 percent complete for the first official game in the renovated facility, which will be Saturday's annual Florida Classic matchup between Bethune-Cookman University and Florida A&M. That will be followed by the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 and New Year's Day Citrus Bowl (formerly the Capital One Bowl). A third bowl game, the Cure Bowl, joins Orlando's roster of bowl games in 2015.
The target completion date for complete renovations is April 2015.
Officials have said previously that it wants to bid on other neutral site college games, and would like to look into hosting NFL preseason games in addition to concerts and other non-sports events.
To that end, also announced Wednesday was a new annual Orlando Kickoff Game at that will be played at the Citrus Bowl to help usher in the college football season each year. The first of these neutral site games will be in on Labor Day in 2016 between the Florida State and Ole Miss.
It will be the first non-bowl neutral-site game at stadium since 2000 when Notre Dame and Navy met. It will also be the first regular-season appearance by a Southeastern Conference (SEC) team in the Citrus Bowl stadium since 1991.
"I've lived here 27 years and I've seen a lot of talk, but no action," said Lee Corso, a college football analyst and former coach Orlando's former USFL team, which played at the Citrus Bowl. "(City officials) did it. I can't believe this is the same place I played high school football in."
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