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Oral History Interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin, Part II of II

“Growing Concern” by Linda Chapin Reprinted with Permission from The Orlando Sentinel, Sunday, July 31, 2005.

The second oral history interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin on October 28, 2019 at the Orlando Public Library. In this second meeting we discuss The Honorable Linda Chapin’s visionary contribution to protecting the environment and the vital natural resources of Florida.

I think that growing up, the environment was an area of study that I had not particularly focused on. And, in fact, Jane, we know that the environment has become increasingly important in people’s awareness over the past 50 years. So perhaps it is not that unusual that as a young person I was not focused on the environment. And even in 1985, by that time, I was married, had children living here in Orlando, and had gone to work for a savings and loan bank called Winter Park Federal. It was at that point that the Chamber of Commerce, Jacob Stuart was heading it, asked me to take a year sabbatical from my job at the bank; and head something we called Project 2000 which was a visionary exercise that gathered knowledgeable people together to talk about what we wanted Central Florida, specifically Orlando, but really, beyond the borders of the city, to be like in the year 2000. That was 15 years off then. It seemed like a long way into the future. But having done Project 2000, is one of the things that teaches me that the future is never far away. It comes faster than you think it’s going to.

LISTEN  Part I  (21:08)


Project 2000

So Project 2000 covered a number of important issues and we had great people heading eight or nine different task forces. For instance, Glenda Hood, was one of my task force chairs. Roger Neiswender, who wound up being the transportation director for the City of Orlando, was one of my chairs on transportation. And the head of Martin Marietta was the head of my Economic Development Task Force. But, specifically, one of the Task Forces which we’re going to talk about today, had to do with the environment and natural resources. And, I really do like to think that apart from actual environmental organizations, like particularly the Audubon Society, this effort was one of the first that brought a lot of attention or real focus to what our environmental issues were, what they should be, what the future might hold…

Public policy needed to address Central Florida’s environment and vice versa

So this effort that was headed by an attorney named Bob Blackford, who was very involved with, or who cared a great deal about the environment. And I think that it was in this effort that I began to have an awareness of the fact that public policy needed to address Central Florida’s environment and vice versa. Central Florida’s environment needed to call attention to the public about what the needs, what the risks, what the possibilities were. And, it was very obvious, I think everybody, of course, knew that Central Florida was known for its lakes. We are a county and a region of many, many lakes, some of them originating in sinkholes, others just part of the natural topography. And so, lakes were the first thing that we addressed in the Environment Task Force for Project 2000.

Inventory of Lakes and Groundwater Resources

What we said we needed was a – no one had ever even counted them – so we said, “Well, first thing we need to do, let’s count them. And then, let’s inventory them and classify them. Let’s talk about which ones are premier lakes, are chains of lakes. How do we protect them? How do we, if we need to regulate them, how would that be? How do we monitor them on a regular basis to see if things are changing?” So, certainly, the lakes, and the risks to the lakes which were, I think, already beginning to be – people who studied water were certainly aware that lakes were going to be threatened by growth and that the biggest risk was stormwater runoff and fertilizers and pesticides. And so, that’s the first time really we talked about those things.

The Florida Aquifer and Groundwater Conservation

Then we talked about the aquifer. And, I must say, when I look back, Jane, I have recognized that at that point in time in Florida, we thought the aquifer was just going to go on forever. We thought there were unlimited supplies of water. We’ve got water for everybody. And we can handle growth and we can handle however much growth we want. And so, the groundwater and the aquifer really became a focus then of saying, well, wait a minute now. Let’s do an inventory of ground water resources. Let’s try and figure out if we should be conserving groundwater and how that might happen. And do we need to regulate beneficial uses? And how can we protect recharge areas? That was a critical element of what we talked about then. I think the rest had more to do with probably growth, land use, the need for parks and open space. We identified that. Hazardous waste, that was a piece of this, but not really what we’re talking about today. Wastewater management was a big one and that is something that I took on when I did get into public office. And, clean air. Those were our major categories in Project 2000.

Elected as Orange County Commissioner in 1986

 Then when I did move on to Orange County, which was not that long after,  you know that I was elected as county commissioner in 1986, but there was a rather curious phenomenon about that. Because the first woman elected to the county commission was Vera Carter. And she was from Windermere and she cared passionately about the environment and had worked very hard to bring that front and center in Orange County and deserves a lot of credit for that. And when I was elected as the second woman, she called me in to her office one day very early on and she said, “Okay, now that you’re here, I can get back to doing what I really care about which is the environment.”   

Creating the Children’s Commission and working with Vera Carter on the Environment

She said, “Somebody had to worry about children, somebody had to worry about education,” so she said, “Here, take these boxes – they’re now yours.” And so, actually as a county commissioner, I really was much more involved in issues like the Children’s Commission, creating the Children’s Commission, worrying about education issues, worrying about human service issues, poverty, while Vera carried the flag for the environment. She stayed on the first two years after I was elected as what was then county chairman, now county mayor. And it was Vera who really, not only mentored me about environmental issues, instructed me, but sort of entrusted those issues to me.

Serving as County Chairman – County Mayor

And so, I went on as county mayor, particularly after Vera left, to work on, let me think, what would I say the environmental issues are or were. I’ve talked about the West Orange Trail, which was the Rails-to-Trails movement that was just catching on all over the country then. And which, if I look back on the things that I accomplished, that may be, aside from the courthouse or the convention center, that may be actually the most visible contribution or accomplishment because it is there – it is on the ground. People use it every day. It’s made a huge difference in places like Winter Garden and Oakland. And so, that’s a very obvious one. 

Developed Parks and Protected Open Space

And the parks, we developed 12-15 new parks. We said we needed open space. We bought acreage out on the Econlockhatchee River. We bought Split Oak Forest and collaborated with Osceola County on Split Oak Forest down at the southern border. So these are sort of the more apparent environmental accomplishments.

The Children’s Rose Garden at Cypress Grove Park dedicated to the Honorable Linda W. Chapin for her work creating Cypress Grove Park.

The Treatment and Reuse of Wastewater

But then we worried about water and we did begin efforts towards the kind of inventory and monitoring of the lakes system. I have to say I don’t remember a big effort, an inventory of the aquifer; that really was almost more of a state responsibility because the Environmental Protection Agency at the state level really cares more about the underground systems. We did do significant work on Central Florida’s lakes. We also, of course, Orange County had a very important utility system and mostly cities don’t do water utilities and sewer. Mostly, those are county responsibilities. And so, that was a big issue for us to take up was, number one, the treatment and reuse of wastewater. And I would say that  probably during my administration, while we didn’t accomplish everything, we gave a major, major push toward treatment and reuse.

Orange County Reusing Almost 100 Percent of Wastewater

And, in fact, Orange County today, or soon after I left, or maybe when I left, was reusing almost 100 percent of our wastewater. In places like south Florida, they’re nowhere near that. But we decided that we could treat the wastewater to a level where it could be used for irrigation and then we began to insist that developers use it for irrigation and not use potable water on their golf courses and their medians and so forth. And so, I would say that when it comes to accomplishments that I’m proud of that aren’t particularly obvious, that would be one: Treatment and Reuse of Wastewater.

Conservation of Potable Water

And then conservation of potable water was an issue that we addressed through our utilities department. And again, I don’t know if we were the first, but we were certainly among the first to look at how much of our potable water, meaning drinkable water, was being used inappropriately. A lot of irrigation, a lot of even manufacturing was using water that met drinking water standards. It wasn’t necessary. And what we were doing, is that we were, the more water you need, if you were a customer, the cheaper it got. Well, excuse me, that didn’t even make walking around sense. Once you started thinking we need to conserve water… we came up with new billing systems and we came up with new appropriate use systems. We had a wonderful utilities director, Allen Ispass, who was – many, many of my staff members wound up being involved in national associations and state associations because they were so talented and their leadership in different fields was so important.

Landfills and Packaging

So, I think, we’ve talked about open space, we’ve talked about parks, we’ve talked about water. Solid waste, I must say, is something that never particularly interested me. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult and important: Landfills. And as I look at the way we live today, I’m just aghast. Everything that comes into our homes is packaged in ways it doesn’t have to be packaged. Everything you buy at a fast food place is going to wind up in the landfill. Packaging of things, it’s not the garbage so much; it’s not the food we waste, it’s too bad, but at least it’s going to degrade and become – some people even compost – as you probably know. And so, that’s not nearly as bad as the cardboard and the styrofoam, the things that are going to wind up in a landfill in this county and every county in America. It has become a huge, expensive, enormous problem. And quite frankly, it’s not one that I had much leadership involved with. The landfill was something that we had to have. We could accommodate it because our population was so much less then. And it simply didn’t interest me nearly as much as it should have probably.

Bruce McClendon: President of the American Planning Association

Because UCF is where I began to – well, I’ll say one more thing about Orange County and that is that I had one of the best planning directors in America. His name was Bruce McClendon. He died recently. He was – I brought him from Texas to deal with growth because he had such experience in Texas. He wound up president of the American Planning Association and he created what I think was a wonderful – we called it our development framework – and it dealt with issues of how in the world are we going to grow and where should we grow in Orange County? Where should we allow growth? And it was contentious then, it’s contentious  now. There will always be people who want to use what we call “green fields” which is open space that has undeveloped land. And the reason they want to do it is because it’s cheap. It’s a lot cheaper to build on open space than it is to build in close to the city. And unfortunately, that’s just the reverse of how it ought to be. We ought to have more density, higher density, higher buildings. All of it ought to be in a city activity center and not out in the open space.

“The thing that kept Orlando green for a hundred years was the citrus groves… “

Unfortunately, the thing that kept Orlando green for a hundred years was the citrus groves because people could own land and it would be very productive land and they could make a living growing orange trees, grapefruit trees. The back to back freezes in the 80s really dealt a death blow, ultimately a death blow to citrus in Orange County. If you look at the History Center, you will see orange trees. I insisted that we plant orange trees at the History Center because I was very much afraid that they might wind up being the last orange trees in Orange County and we had to have the symbol of our county somewhere. Where better than the History Center? I hope they’re still there.

“We need housing for our tourism industry closer to Disney.”

But we had to tackle growth management and Bruce McClendon was a genius at it. And he came up with one notable idea which you will see today. And here was the premise: The premise was we need housing for our tourism industry closer to Disney. It’s not productive to have people driving 15 miles one way and then back again to go to work at Disney. At the same time we had all that West Orange land that had been decimated by the freezes and no one was willing to replant citrus out there. Bruce McClendon, in looking at the overall needs of the county, decided it was more important for us to save the sensitive land to the east, particularly along the Econ River, than to save the sandy soils and open space in the west, the former orange groves. 

Horizons West

And so, he created a plan called Horizons West which is now a thriving community. There was an article about it in the paper the other day…. okay, here are all these landowners and they want to build houses. They don’t want to plant orange trees, they want to build houses. If we could get them all together, and make them create an aggregate of adjacent land – so it wasn’t just going to sprawl all over the landscape; it was going to be contained. And get them to commit to the roads even to set aside land for schools. To set aside land for libraries, a development framework. Then we could perhaps give them permission, because that was outside the urban service area at that point.

“The most important aspect of Growth Management during my two terms…”

We had said, “Well, there was never any need to allow buildings out there because it was all agriculture and productive. But when the orange groves went away then the landowners understandably wanted to use their land for something. So, Horizons West and the development framework that Bruce created was probably the most important aspect of growth management during my two terms which is also a big piece of the environment. Managing growth is also shepherding the environmental resources.

LISTEN Part II  (19:25)


The Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies at UCF

When I went on to UCF, I think I probably told you this, right after I left public office John Hitt contacted me and said, “Will you come to UCF?” And I said, “Well, that would be interesting, but what would you want me to do?” And he essentially said, anything you want. And so, I created what we wound up calling the Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies. At that time UCF under President Hitt, had framed itself as a “metropolitan university”. A metropolitan university in those days, back in the 80’s, 90’s, it was a big university that didn’t call itself a research university. University of Florida was a research university. The University of Central Florida called itself a metropolitan university and its goal was both to educate the students from a population center and to work cooperatively with the cities and the counties in that region to tackle issues of importance.

Economic Development Issues and Our Natural Environment in the Region

And most of those at that time were economic development issues not environmental issues. Certainly the engineering department would work on things like highways and roads. I’m sure there were people working on utilities. Gradually over time UCF moved toward being a research university. Today it has a great deal of important research going on particularly in optics and lasers, and other areas – nanoscience – where it can really claim preeminence, but no one was doing much work on the environment. And so, I decided to put my efforts, and we did it in really two major areas, one of them was to look at our natural environment in the region.

The Seven Environmental Treasures of Central Florida

And now, I’m looking beyond Orange County. As a metropolitan regional center, I’m looking to what we define as a seven county area. And so, we looked at the Central Florida region. Let’s see if I can name the counties now, my goodness. Obviously, it’s Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Volusia, Lake, Polk, Brevard. So we looked at the seven counties and we defined what we called the seven environmental treasures of Central Florida. And I, in order to get everybody involved and interested, I had the great, good fortune of having one in each county. I mean, it was almost like God was helping me define the environmental treasures, because I was able to get the county governments of all seven counties to be involved. Because each one of them had a treasure that needed to be protected and preserved. And I can tell you what those were because we published a great deal about it. And because we did television shows about it. I can tell you very quickly what they were and I got not only the environmental managers of each county involved, but people who loved and wrote about those places. 

“In Central Florida, 7 Fragile Ecosystems That We Need to Save” by Linda Chapin, Special to the Sentinel, Reprinted with Permission From The Orlando Sentinel, December 4, 2005.

“The Orange County experiences with the Econ River and the St. Johns River were written about in my published works by Bill Bellville…”

And so, the Orange County experiences with the Econ River and the St. Johns River were written about in my published works by Bill Bellville who had written a number of books about the St. Johns River. I got to work with him in really defining and talking about both the history and the future. And then, when you came to the east coast, we talked about the Indian River Lagoon. Now the Indian River Lagoon was one of the most wonderful natural treasures. Both in terms of recreation, in terms of fishing, in terms of beauty. And of all the things that I will talk about today, that is my greatest disappointment. It has been degraded. It has been overbuilt. It is filled with algae. It is a tragedy. It’s been hurt environmentally. It’s been hurt economically. In terms of the fishing and the tourism it’s just a tragedy what’s happen to the Indian River Lagoon.

The Osceola County Prairie

We went on then to go inland. And although many people think that Osceola County is kind of boring because it’s just flat open space, it’s got wonderful environmental treasures that are essentially an environmental plain and very special species and things that live in a very flat, plain like area; a prairie, in fact, we called it. 

Volusia County Conservation Corridor

Volusia County has had, and still has to a large extent, an environmental corridor, a wildlife corridor that allows animals to move from south to north. Now a lot of building is going on that will cut that off.

Land Bridge for the 528

I’m involved right this minute –  in fact, I met with Mayor Demings the other day, on the fact that the 528, we used to call it the Beeline now they call it the Beachline – it is an impediment to the animals going north and south, but not as much as it’s going to be when they build that train, the Virgin Atlantic Train. And so, what we’re talking about is a land bridge over that impediment which has been done in a couple of places, but it’s a major undertaking. And essentially, if you think about a trail that has a bridge over a highway for bicyclists and pedestrians, this land bridge is that on steroids. If you drive up I-75, towards Gainesville you will see the only one we have in Central Florida, the land bridge across I-75. It is a concrete bridge built over a six lane highway that is planted with trees and grasses. It is a place for the pedestrians, for the bicyclists, and for the animals to cross that highway. So that is what we dream about for what’s going to happen with that train that will come from the coast into Central Florida. The Volusia Conservation Corridor is a piece of that picture.

The Green Swamp and the Lake Wales Ridge

Moving on, we went to Lake County, Polk County, the Green Swamp. I mean, it’s amazing that in Osceola County you can have a prairie that is dry, that is sandy, that is an entirely totally different environment than just further to the west where we have a swamp. The Green Swamp was actually a part of the original ecosystem of Florida when both coasts were underwater. The Green Swamp was part of that as was in Lake County, the Lake Wales Ridge. And, the Lake Wales Ridge which runs down Highway 27, right down the middle of the state is fascinating to me. If you did archaeological work and some has gone on – but mostly biological work along the Lake Wales Ridge, you will find seashells. Because at one time in Florida’s history, that’s all that was above the waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean. Now how interesting is that? I think that’s just fascinating! The Lake Wales Ridge… we need to preserve it’s scrub-jay territory – that’s one of the few places that you can still find scrub- jays.

The Wekiwa River and the Greenway up into Ocala

The seventh would probably be the Wekiwa River, the Greenway up into Ocala. And those were what we call The Seven Treasures. And we published about them. “The Sentinel” did a fair amount of work on The Seven Fragile Ecosystems that we need to save. And I actually have talked to an editor recently about wouldn’t it be a good idea to go back and see what we said needed to be saved and how much we’ve accomplished in trying to do that?

Visioning, Accomplishments, and Citizen Engagement

One thing about doing visioning is what good does it do if you never go back to see what then got accomplished? What then got preserved or what then happened because of the visioning? We’ve had several exercises in Central Florida that I think could be defined as visioning exercises. And the thing you always know when you embark upon such an effort is that it is apt to wind up on a shelf somewhere. And, I still think it’s beneficial. People have asked me, what’s the good of doing it if you come up with a wonderful report and then it goes on a shelf? I think there is still a benefit because you will have had 200 people or 500 people involved in doing it and that is always, that kind of citizen engagement is always important. But, it’s really too bad if you never look back.

Project 2000 Realizes a Professional Sports Team and a Children’s Hospital

If you go back for just a second to Project 2000 there were many things we said we ought to do. Well, why don’t we go back and see if we ever did them? I can think of a few. We got a professional sports team. In 1985, we said, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a professional sports team?” Well, now we have several. A children’s hospital. We did not have a children’s hospital in 1985. Now, for good or for ill we have three. Three children’s hospitals is too many for a city to have. You really should have one outstanding children’s hospital. Physicians believe that because really if you’re going to be one of the best in the world like Cincinnati or Boston, you need to have everything happening in one place. The research, the treatment, all of it happening in one place. But that’s an entirely different subject. Healthcare has been another thing I’ve done and it turned out to be a pretty interesting part. But today we’re talking about the environment.

Growth Management Projections Workshop with the University of Pennsylvania Planning Department

So we did “Naturally Central Florida”. We did the seven ecosystems while I was at the university. But we also did – and we did television shows on them. We have a lot of special things. I thought they were wonderful. But we also did some growth management projections and that was something that I was not equipped educationally or experientially to do on my own. And so, what I did was to find a way to engage one of the best planning departments in the country, and that was the Planning Department from the University of Pennsylvania. And we got them to come down and they made us a workshop. They brought a class of graduate planning students to come to Central Florida, which we could assure them was one of the fastest growing areas in America, and look at how we were doing it, what we could do better, and how was it going to turn out?

The Orlando Sentinel‘s Focus on Growth Management

And then we put those students together. They were here for like a three week period in the spring and then they went back and did more work in Philadelphia. We put them together with local planners, with local environmentalists, with transportation people, and it was really an amazing opportunity for Central Florida to look at how we were growing and what was going to happen. And we came up with growth scenarios. And again, The Sentinel did a very nice job of focusing on these projections. If you looked at where we were then, and that was what in 2005? If you looked at where Orlando was then and Orange County, and then the seven, and again I use the seven counties as the framework. If you looked at where we were and you looked at the direction we were headed in, you would wind up in the year 2050 looking like this – see illustration.

“Growing Concern” by Linda Chapin Reprinted with Permission from The Orlando Sentinel, Sunday, July 31, 2005.

“If you use corridors. If you plan your transportation corridors. If you protected wildlife corridors, you could wind up with essentially what you need to have as a city…”

You would have essentially paved over much of seven counties. You would have trashed a lot of environmental treasures. And with untrammeled, unchecked growth, you would wind up as – I know I used Joni Mitchell’s song – “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” And that’s where you might wind up. Alternatively, these students said, “If you use corridors. If you plan your transportation corridors. If you protected wildlife corridors, you could wind up with essentially what you need to have as a city, which is much more compact growth. A core of growth. Density in the core of the growth and protection of your environmental treasures and corridors all around.”Again, we really should go back and see which of those – actually I have a meeting with Mayor Demings tomorrow and with Paul Owens who is the head of 1,000 Friends of Florida – and we’re going to see if we can’t persuade Orange County to do a similar growth study and tell us are we looking more like this or are we looking more like this? It will be 15 years since we did this study, and so we really should know how well we’re doing.

“I really love cities because cities are all about people and neighborhoods and interactions…”

Cities are – I love cities. I love countryside, but I really love cities because cities are all about people and neighborhoods and interactions. And, we’ve been at a disadvantage in the south whether it’s Florida or Texas or Alabama. And there’s a really good reason for it that is interesting to me. If you were Philadelphia, if you were Cleveland, if you were Boston, you started with a core city and then in the 1800s, you grew a little bit. And in the 1900s you grew a little bit more. And you were like an oak tree growing in circles with trolley systems and with the natural development of transportation that served an urban core. Well, suddenly, after the south began to recover from the Civil War and agriculture was no longer the major production in the south. And WWII came along, and after WWII we were prosperous and everybody wanted to have their own little 1/4 acre lot with a picket fence. And, everybody wanted to have an automobile. And people began to say, “Well, I don’t want to live in the heart of the city, I want to live in the suburbs. And so, cities in the south, particularly Texas cities like Houston and Dallas began to just grow and grow and grow, and sprawl across the landscape. That has always been the biggest fear of people who care about growth management.

“In the 70’s and the 80’s, Florida had outstanding, cutting edge, growth management regulations…”

And, fortunately, in the 70’s and the 80’s, Florida had outstanding, cutting edge, growth management regulations. And in the past 15 years, they’ve been decimated. They’ve been done away with. And so all we can do now is rely upon the local governments….

LISTEN  Part III  (15:22)


Community-wide Planning and Citizen Efforts

After I left UCF with those two major emphases that we had out there which was our natural treasures and protecting them in the way we grow. I did by the way while I was at UCF, we would do a number of community-wide planning and citizen efforts. We had lots of outstanding planners from around the country that would come and lecture. And not usually on campus, but in the community. Because really it was, as John Hitt always said, “We’re a partnership university. We need to share what we have with the community.” And so, I brought a lot of notable planners. (What  I really ought to do is provide you with a list of them sometime) who came, and some of them were very provocative. Some of them were controversial. Some of them were right in line with what we hoped for, for our future. And we brought people who had written books about the St. Johns River. And we brought a number of folks. I brought the Mayor of Jacksonville down to talk about the work that he had done in his county to protect the river because he was a notable leader himself. His name is John Delaney. He wound up being the President of the University of North Florida after he was through being Mayor of Jacksonville, of Duval County. 

“The way to make the future the best it can be for Central Florida…”

So we had most interesting people come along and I had a budget  and some resources to be able to bring people who were willing to come and talk about the problems we face, the advantages we have, and the way to make the future the best it can be for Central Florida. After I left the University, it was almost as if – of course, when anyone retires, I always advise people give yourself a year – don’t, people will come to you, on day one and say, “Oh come serve on our board, come work on our project, come speak to our group.” And I did some of that. But based on the fact that I wound up doing more than I had really wanted to do, I do advise people to take time to figure out exactly where your retirement focus needs to be and where you will enjoy spending time.

Head of the Transition Team for Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings

And I think that I’ve proven to myself, if to no one else, once you have a career in public service or in academia or in business, retirement is where you get to have fun doing the things you didn’t have time to do before. And so, although I have continued to maintain an interest in growth, and I’ve done things like when Jerry Demings was elected Sheriff ten years ago, he asked me to head his transition team to look at what needed to happen for the Sheriff’s Department.

Head of the Transition Team for Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings

When Jerry Demings was elected Orange County Mayor a year and a half ago, he asked me to head his transition team for the Mayor’s Office, to decide where the focus of his time in office should be. Of course, he had very clear ideas himself about the need for affordable housing, for instance. And the need for transportation resources. Those were the big burning issues of the day. But we also identified environmental things to care about. We identified a systems change that needed to happen. We identified a number of other things. We had 40 of Central Florida’s top leaders working on that transition team. So, I’ve done things like that.

Serving on the Orlando International Airport Oversight Committee

The airport asked Mayor Frederick and me and another very wise gentleman who’s experienced with airports to come and serve on an oversight committee as they undertook the effort to grow the airport. And that was interesting to keep up with the airport since I had been there at the beginning of the new Orlando International Airport. But the airport is so huge. The technology is so advanced. There are so many incredible new financial instruments that frankly, it was more than I wanted to do to keep up with all of it. So I was willing to do that for a couple of years and then talked Phil Brown into saying, “We could take a break on that. The three of us.” 

Served on the Board of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra

And the thing that has really occupied much of my time in retirement in the last five or ten years, has been the arts. Never had time, always loved the arts. I played the piano as a girl, studied music for 12 years, and then let it lapse. I’ve gone back to playing the piano. I love classical music and have served on the board of the Orlando Philharmonic and really enjoy time to go to concerts and enjoy the ballet. We’re incredibly fortunate in Central Florida to have remarkable theater companies.

“I actually wrote to the theater editor at ‘The New York Times’ a few days ago, because he was looking at some fabulous regional theater companies…”

And I actually wrote to the theater editor at “The New York Times” a few days ago, because he was looking at some fabulous regional theater companies. There’s one in Minneapolis. There’s one in San Diego and I said, “You need to do something different. You need to be willing to look not only at quality, but at quantity.” I said, “Come to Central Florida. We are a laboratory  for theater because we have so many talented people working at the attractions that we probably have more community theater groups than any other place in America. We have 10, 12, 14 different groups that offer all the way from Shakespeare to really cutting edge new productions and plays.” And so, I said, “You need to get down here and you need to write about something a little different.” So I’ve enjoyed theater and think we’ve got remarkable assets.

“The big part of my time has been with the Performing Arts Center…”

But the big part of my time has been with the performing arts center. We’ve tried for 30 years to build a beautiful performing arts center for Central Florida and it was something Mayor Hood worked very hard on and could not get off the ground. It is something Mayor Dyer has made his own and asked me to serve. So, I ‘ve been on that executive committee as it struggled to be born. As it was designed to be a magnificent building with three different theaters. As the recession hit and the money to build it went away and we had to make the decision, do we give up again? Do we put it on hold again? Or do we take the money we’ve got and build part of it? And that’s what we decided to do which was a fascinating exercise. To cut the building essentially in half and build the Broadway Hall and the community theater. And now, finally, next year we’re about to complete what will be the most magnificent concert hall anywhere. They say that Vienna has the most marvelous acoustics anywhere in the world and we believe that ours will match theirs.  

“It costs 12,000 dollars a day to run the Arts Center…”  

So that has been a real joy for me. Again, sometimes, there’s controversy. It turns out the arts groups thought they ought to be able to be in the center for virtually no rent. I’m exaggerating, of course. But it also turns out that it costs 12,000 dollars a day to run the arts center. So somehow we have to find the money to make that work out. Because we’re not going to ask the taxpayers to subsidize the arts center. In other communities, they do. We said if the community would help us build it, we wouldn’t ask them to help us run it. So that’s been another fascinating exercise with a lot of public policy implications to it and I’ve enjoyed that. So that kind of rounds out where we are up until today….

“We’ve been extraordinarily lucky in Central Florida to have good honest leadership in our local governments.”

I should add though to the conversation the fact that we’ve been extraordinarily lucky in Central Florida to have good honest leadership in our local governments. Whether that’s in the small towns in the western part of the county or the City Orlando. We’ve had essentially people who really care about Central Florida, who want what’s best for it. We haven’t had scandals. We haven’t people embezzling money. And I have been really blessed to be able to work with so many of those  people.   

Well you also have been honored for your integrity and we are very grateful for that.

Well, you know, I have to say, I don’t want to close on a negative note, but it is very sad for me to see across our country the fact that standards are not what they once were for people in public service. That too often it seems to me, people in public office are more worried about their next election than they are worried about the task they came to do which is to serve the people and the city or the state or the country. And, I think, if we ever needed a turnaround in America, it is now. If we ever needed the kind of progressive movement that Teddy Roosevelt brought to America when there were big bosses in the cities. When there were people raking off money from public service, when there were people trashing the environment – you need a collection of people now to take our country back.   

And so, hopefully areas like the University of Central Florida, The Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies, are bringing forth some of that, in people that are working there and revisiting specifics of what needs to be done in looking at studies…

You know, Jane, that is one of the weaknesses of any system is that if you’re going to elect good people to public office or if you’re going to ask them to head your planning department, they’re going to have their own ideas. They’re not going to want to revisit the work that went before. And, I think, that is – I wish there were a department at UCF that would decide to do that. To talk about, okay what were the road systems like back then? How did the road systems grow? That wasn’t my area of expertise, I’m not an engineer. But wouldn’t it be helpful as you say, “Let’s reconstruct I-4,” to say, “Well how did we get from there to here?” If you are a biologist wouldn’t it be helpful to look at these seven environmental treasures and say, “What’s happened to them in the last 20 years?” And yet, I quite understand that people have their own vision.

“Preserving and Protecting what’s gone before…”

Leaders have their own areas of expertise that they want to promote and work on. So I do see that as a gap. I wish there were a way to fill in that gap which is to go back and look at what’s happened before. Well, actually that’s you perhaps, Jane, you and the Library, and the History Center who are charged at least with preserving and protecting what’s gone before. So that if we can ever find a set of people or a grad student, or somebody that wants to come along and do the analyses that would show where we were and where we are today and how did we get from there to here, at least you will have protected the stories and the documents and the record of how that might be able to happen. So, thank you for that.

Interview:  The Honorable Linda Chapin 

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date:  October 28, 2019

Place:  Orlando Public Library


Oral History Interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin, Part I of II

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The Linda W. Chapin Children's Rose Garden at Cypress Grove Park

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The Honorable Linda Chapin

The Honorable Linda Chapin served as the first elected Mayor of Orange County, Florida, from 1990-1998. Her accomplishments in public office include...

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"Growing Concern" by Linda Chapin Reprinted with Permission from The Orlando Sentinel, Sunday, July 31, 2005. Courtesy of The Honorable Linda Chapin.

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"In Central Florida, 7 Fragile Ecosystems That We Need to Save" by Linda Chapin, Special to the Sentinel, Reprinted with Permission From...

Honorable Linda Chapin

Honorable Linda Chapin

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The Second Oral History Interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin, Part I of III

The second oral history interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin on October 28, 2019 at the Orlando Public Library. In this second meeting we discuss The Honorable Linda Chapin's visionary contribution to protecting the environment and the vital natural resources of Florida.

The Second Oral History Interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin, Part II of III

The second oral history interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin on October 28, 2019 at the Orlando Public Library. In this second meeting we discuss The Honorable Linda Chapin's visionary contribution to protecting the environment and the vital natural resources of Florida.

The Second Oral History Interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin, Part III of III

The second oral history interview with The Honorable Linda Chapin on October 28, 2019 at the Orlando Public Library. In this second meeting we discuss The Honorable Linda Chapin's visionary contribution to protecting the environment and the vital natural resources of Florida.

"In Central Florida, 7 Fragile Ecosystems That We Need to Save" by Linda Chapin

"In Central Florida, 7 Fragile Ecosystems That We Need to Save" by Linda Chapin, Special to the Sentinel, Reprinted with Permission From "The Orlando Sentinel", December 4, 2005. Courtesy of The Honorable Linda Chapin.

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