Oral history interview with the Honorable Glenda Evans Hood at the Orlando Public Library on February 20, 2018.
Honorable Glenda Hood, you worked regarding Lake Nona and the development with the Medical City for the community. Would you tell us a little bit about that and how it came about?
I’d be happy to, Jane. Yeah, I’m going to go back in history. You know we are so fortunate that we have out international airport and, of course, the growth has been tremendous and that whole part of our city we knew had potential for growth. And so, during the years that I was mayor we looked at how we could continue to grow that activity center around the airport.
We annexed properties into the City of Orlando…
So we annexed properties into the City of Orlando which make the opportunities for development we put in place. And we knew that there to the east of the international airport there was great potential for mixed use development. So I’d like to talk about it in so far as planting the seeds. Because I think leaders do that. They plant seeds for the future. And you can’t really expect things to happen overnight. You plant those seeds, you make plans, you make sure that it’s best serving the needs. And we knew that again, we had the opportunity; that we were going to have needs in the future and we wanted to seize these opportunities by addressing those needs.
Working with the Lake Nona Development Company
So the first thing after we annexed hundreds and up to thousands of acres that went on down to Osceola County line into the City of Orlando contiguous to the international airport. And, of course, whenever you develop an area you want to make sure there’s good ingress and egress, good transportation. We certainly had the roadways, we had the airport there. So the developers wanted to put housing there because it was convenient to transportation, good location to the coast if people worked over in that vicinity. And so, the Lake Nona Development Company was very eager to develop that. We worked with them so that the right plan would be in place. Of course, when you put residential in place you’re going to need other things. You’re going to need schools. You’re going to need the infrastructure which the city was prepared and responsible for providing once that development was in the City of Orlando.
We pulled together five different partners…
But, we thought we had a great opportunity with the school. And so, we pulled together five different partners. Because the developer wanted a unique type of school. We in the city certainly wanted a unique development that included a unique type of school. And so we pulled together a developer, the City, Orlando Regional Healthcare, now Orlando Health, the YMCA, and Orange County Public Schools. And, the idea, as we talked around the table, and as we put this new concept and plan in place, was to have a school that included a YMCA facility, that had parks, public parks surrounding it that served the needs of the neighborhood. And that it had a healthcare element. And that’s where Orlando Health came into play.
Medical City Development Receives Top Prize from the Urban Land Institute
And so, that was a seed that was planted that ultimately developed into what is now Medical City. So, great concept, implementation of exactly what are thoughts and concepts were. Sure there were a few struggles along the way. I can remember as our five partners were sitting in my office, you know we had to iron out a few snags along the way, but in the end, it was a project and a school project that received national acclaim. In fact, the Urban Land Institute gave it their top development prize because of the unique concept of it. So one thing led to another and that school with the Y, with the parks, all healthy types of living, and then with the Medical City concept attached to it, it started attracting other things in the Lake Nona development area. And certainly Nemours Hospital, the research facilities, then we had the opportunity years later to have a new medical school with UCF’s presence out there and in the end Medical City came about. So while I wasn’t in office when all those pieces were in place, I feel very good that there were people in the community, and that I happened to have the privilege of being part of that. To plant that seed so that now we have medical city in place and we have young people being trained as physicians in our community. We have research being done that brings about new concepts for medicine and we have healthcare facilities and we’re certainly attracting other kinds of development as well.
The Arts as an Economic Generator
Planting seeds is important when you’re a leader and that kind of makes me think of the arts, too. And I know I talked about the arts before and the importance of the arts in a community and especially for economic development. You know studies have shown that when you look at the number of the arts offerings in a community, the people that attend – certainly our visitor population that comes here for different things related to the arts, that’s a huge economic generator for us. And so, years ago, in fact, I think it was in my first term as mayor, I remember I was getting ready to give a speech downtown and I wanted to talk about the arts as an economic generator. And I had a lot of people say, “Oh no, you can’t do that. People just don’t understand that and they won’t grasp the concept.” And I said, “But I feel very strongly about it.” And so, indeed, I talked about the arts in that way. And again, I felt like there was a seed being planted to change a whole process and a whole idea around what the arts were. As I used to say, it’s not just a production on a stage or a painting on the wall. The arts is something that you can be part of and you should be able to feel it and touch it, but you also should realize that it creates jobs in a community. And it creates opportunities. And it’s the creative spirit that’s brought people of all ages. They use it in medicine, they use it in social service, and mental health needs. And so, our community has been far sighted in realizing that.
Creating an Arts Corridor
And one of the things that I did early on was invited an Urban Land Institute panel of experts to come to the city and help me look at our downtown as far as how could we really grasp that idea of the arts as an economic generator and make an arts district. And so, we looked at how could we create an arts corridor. How could we tie together some of our arts institutions? How could we create spaces and places where artists wanted to be and people wanted to come and visit. And, how could we enhance our public art program in our parks and in our public spaces with new development? Where developers would want to and often be required to contribute to a public arts program. And with a percentage of the amount of the development being put in to an arts fund which we also put in place.
Site for a new Performing Arts Center
But one of the things this Urban Land Institute ULI Panel recommended, because I asked them to kind of help me site where a future performing arts center could be. We had our Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, in fact that used to be the old Orlando Municipal Auditorium. That’s where my husband and I met when we were in high school when we were both ushering for a Florida Symphony Performance. So it certainly has been an icon in our community. But our community’s larger. We need something bigger, a new idea. And so, the ULI panel at my encouraging sited a place in downtown for when we could raise the money and when the timing was right to place a new performing arts center.
Well, I went back and looked at the study not too long ago, now that study was 25 years ago, and our performing arts center, that’s just a handful of years old, finally came about. Again, we planted the seed for where it should be, for the concept of how it should fit in to our downtown and enhance all the other things related to the arts downtown. But it is in the exact location that that panel sited those 25 years ago. So as I said, you plan things, you develop concepts, you start changing mindsets. You encourage people to rally around something that’s going to be good in the community. And then it may take a handful of years to move forward or it may take several decades to move forward. But the important thing is that we stay focused and we realize the importance of these things in our community. So downtown with the arts and the performing arts center, and Lake Nona, the school and the developing into Medical City, are just two of those things that I refer to like I said as planting seeds. And then, hopefully being brought about in the future.
International Community with International Business
Another thing I’d like to talk about, and I know I touched on previously in my interview, is the fact that we are an international community. And it’s not just because of the visitors that come from all over the globe to see us, and to visit what we have to offer here. But many of our businesses are prospering because they do business internationally. And we’ve certainly had things that enhanced that or have promoted that. Whether it was World Cup Soccer and the different business people that were here, and we showed them what a great business climate we had. Or, some of the, you know, other opportunities that we’ve seized. But I’ve had the occasion to meet with a lot of world leaders. And it’s really been something that I’ve learned from and something that I hope our community has benefited from when these people have come to speak and to know that they know our community. But I do have to stop and reflect on one of the people that I met that impressed me so much, and that was Margaret Thatcher. And this was after she’d been in office, and she would travel around and speak all over the world.
Metro Orlando International Affairs Commission
The Metro Orlando International Affairs Commission that I founded through the Economic Development Commission, this was to promote international business in our community, invited her to come and be a speaker. And so, I was asked if I would introduce her. Of course, I was extremely nervous to be able to introduce someone like Margaret Thatcher. And so, before the lunch was over, and before I was going to introduce her, I kind of stepped out of the room to take a deep breath and to gather my thoughts. And I happened to see Margaret Thatcher sitting over by herself. And she almost looked like she was meditating or even maybe sleeping a little bit. So I walked over to her, and, I guess, I startled her. She kind of look startled and I said, “Excuse me, but I just want to reintroduce myself and I’m so privileged to be introducing you.”
World Leader Margaret Thatcher in Orlando
And she said, “Oh, my dear – “ (And I wish I had the accent to repeat exactly what she said.) She said, “Oh, my dear, you know, you have to understand that one of the greatest things you can do as a leader is just to be by yourself and just take a little catnap before you go on stage or before you do anything.” And I really didn’t know if I should laugh, would that offend her? Or was it a good bit of advice? But, I think it was a good bit of advice. And to this day, I will always remember her telling me that.
Then, of course, she was introduced. She gave her speech and it was extraordinary. And she’s just been someone that I have admired greatly as a result. But, I think, it just goes to show you that sometimes we think of leaders as being kind of stoic and so serious, but there’s always a fun side to every leader. And there’s certainly a fun side to her.
World Leader Lech Walesa
Another world leader that I met long before he was really a world power, but he was, I guess you would call a community activist in many ways, in Poland was, Lech Walesa. I was on a business mission to Europe. I think it was a state business mission and I was representing our community. And we happened to stop in a couple communities, cities in Poland and one of the cities was Gdansk, Poland. And we were going to meet with this individual who seemed to be gaining popularity in Poland and people were really rallying around their thoughts and how to change the government. And lo and behold it was Lech Walesa. And I had the occasion with about eight or ten other individuals to sit and listen to him. And while I listened and really thought about what he was saying about how his country could change and how thoughts of democracy were so much better in his mind. I’m not sure I realized until several years later when he was elected as a leader of his country the impact that he had on me.
The American Flag
So I’ve had several occasions like that to meet people before their time if you will. Or to kind of learn from them how other people think in other parts of the world. Maybe that even goes back to when I was growing up. I studied in Costa Rica and in Spain. And I can remember when I studied in Costa Rica I had been down there probably for five or six weeks and then it was the 4th of July and I went to the ambassador’s residence and I saw the American flag. And I hadn’t seen the American flag in all those weeks and there was something that just hit me at the time as far as how very fortunate we are to live in a country with the freedoms that we have. While Costa Rica is very democratic and very open in all their processes, there is still something that just came over me at the time. But even more so while I was studying in Spain. It is while Spain was under the dictatorship. And there were civil guards all around and it was not a very free and open society. And at times, could be a little frightening for someone from another country.
I realized our freedoms and how important they are…
And so, again when I returned to this country after studying there for almost two years, I realized our freedoms and how important they are. And I think maybe both of those opportunities combined with other opportunities that I was willing to take on as a student, and in my young adult life in leadership, it really helped me to push forward to run for public office. Because I think, you know, we’re built on chapters in our lives that influence us and move us down one path or another. And I think those were two very impactful things in my life. And again, I think leaders need to be real. They need to be authentic. They need to be approachable. They need to be able to identify with those that they represent. And people need to feel that they listen. Because leaders don’t have all the answers. If you’re not listening, and you’re not learning from others, whether it’s past experiences or current ones, or looking ahead and having a vision for the future; and that’s a collection of visions in your community, then I don’t think you’re going to be a very effective leader. You have to be willing to take a risk once and a while, too.
Leaders creating a vision for the future…
After you’ve gathered all the facts and formed that vision, you have to be willing to step out and take that risk. And certainly we know lots of leaders who do that. And sometimes you’re successful and sometimes you’re not. You know in this community, and I think I touched on this a little bit before when it came to transportation, so many had the vision for a complete transportation system for commuter and light rail and integrated bus systems, walkability, and bike paths. And not just covering up our community with highways, but having a truly integrated system. When we started talking about that in this community, it was too soon. People weren’t ready for that. And we may have lost some of those opportunities now, but we’re still seeing bits and pieces being put in place with our commuter rail and certainly focusing on the walkability of our city. And certainly connections with bikeways and growing our airport as I said. So those things are important when you look at the history of a community and when you look at leaders creating a vision for the future of the community as well.
Global Trustee for Urban Land Institute
I’ve mentioned Urban Land Institute a couple of times, and I’m a Global Trustee for ULI. And ULI is an organization of about 35,000 – 40,000 folks around the world. Planners, developers, people involved in finance and market studies. And they have been reaching out more and more to people who have been in public office. And the whole concept for ULI is to do responsible and good planning in communities. And so, being a trustee of ULI is something that gives me the opportunity to use so much of what I learned, as I think of a mayor as the ultimate planner of a community. That was always the way I thought of my position as a leader of this city. So we talk about that a lot. We learn from each other at the trustee level at ULI.
Urban Land Institute’s Advisory Service
But there’s also a program called Advisory Services. Remember I talked about that panel of experts that I brought to Orlando to look at the arts in our downtown and to help me plant that seed at the performing arts center. Well, now I serve on these panels that go to different cities and communities. I’ve chaired about close to ten of them now. And we take panels of seven to ten individuals with different skill sets and areas of expertise and experience in their lives and a community that has a challenge for them like they want their downtown to be totally redeveloped. Or they want to take out a piece of the interstate that divides their downtown. Or, they want to look at how they adapt an old hospital facility or industrial facility into a mixed use development. And they have our panel of experts come into the community, spend an intensive week of studying the site, talking to the stakeholders in the community, and then leaving with a set of recommendations, and later, several months later, a published report that can be used by that community to implement a plan to look at a new vision. Because sometimes when you’re a little to close to something you don’t think about things through the same lenses. And it’s a wonderful program that ULI has. I thoroughly enjoy going into communities.
Chairing Urban Land Institute Advisory Panels
Recently, I was in Kansas City chairing a panel there. And their downtown has been redeveloping and they have a lot going for them, but they have a big piece of interstate that divides their downtown. And their idea is to remove it as many other cities have, and to relocate that traffic on outer beltways so that they can bring those two pieces of downtown together. I’m getting ready to chair another panel in Bloomington, Indiana in the spring and I’ll be looking at an old hospital site and the acreage that’s around that’s contiguous to the downtown and how that can be redeveloped and seamlessly become part of their downtown. We’ve looked at rail corridors up in the North Carolina area. We’ve certainly helped Charlotte with expansion of their light rail. And then the commuter rail concept that would go up through the communities to the north. Looked at a lot of different communities in that light. So that’s one of the things that I continue to do with ULI besides serving as a trustee.
Serving on the Advisory Board of the Rose Center for Public Leadership
There’s another program that’s a joint program between the National League of Cities and the Urban Land Institute and it’s called the Rose Center for Public Leadership. And the Rose Center for Public Leadership, which I’ve been on their advisory board since the concept came about for the Rose Center. And we also work with cities usually with new administrations in place to help them create a vision for their administration. And we work with them over a year period of time, and bring in individuals with different expertise and experiences to help those cities and those mayors really develop that vision.
Providing Leadership on Governing Boards
I’m also fortunate to be serving on several corporate boards. I serve on a healthcare board and chair that. And I serve on a bank board and chair that as well. And, you know, it’s interesting because even though you may not have a background in banking or a background in healthcare, when you’re on a governing board and you’re providing the leadership and the oversight for the future of that organization those leadership skills and those life experiences, and experiences whether it’s been with the city or at the state or with my own small business, helps me tremendously in being able to contribute to those boards.
Florida Gubernatorial Fellows Board
And then another board that I’m involved with which I really love is the Gubernatorial Fellows Board for the State of Florida. And this was put in place by then Governor Jeb Bush. And it’s kind of like the White House Fellows program, but this is for the State of Florida. And we select college students and graduate students to go through this internship program working in different divisions or departments of the state so that they can learn along with their academic learning and gain insight into how government works and hopefully become leaders in government at some time in the future. So that’s a fun board to serve on as well.
And locally, I’ve been working with Junior Achievement. Junior Achievement’s always been a big part of the Hood Family. Our children went through programs in high school of Junior Achievement. My husband is a former Chairman of the Board of Junior Achievement and taught Project Business in the schools. I now have been working with the Junior Achievement Academy. It’s out at Oakridge High School which is where I went to high school and it’s a way that young high school students can develop business skills and other skills to be able to excel in college and in their life. And we’ve had wonderful and exceptional students involved in the academy that have a very high percentage of college acceptance and scholarships coming their way. And so it’s given a lot of young people an opportunity that may not have come their way if the Junior Achievement Academy wasn’t in place.
Making Great Leaders and Great Citizens in Our Community
So lots of gratifying things, but they’re all things that I can use what I learned as mayor, what I learned as secretary of state, what I learned in the private sector, what I learned in the volunteer sector, and, I think, just what I’ve learned from so many great people in this community and communities all over the world. So I’ve been very fortunate… It’s a lot of fun. It really is. It’s just like seeing those members of my Youth Council out there in the community from when I was mayor and seeing what they’re achieving because they learned about city government. So, you know, it’s the same with the Academy or the Gubernatorial Fellows Program. It’s great. And that’s what we should be doing. You know, we need to reach down and pull others up and along and give them the opportunities that will make them great leaders and great citizens in our community.
Interview: The Honorable Glenda Evans Hood
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: February 20, 2018
Place: Orlando Public Library