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ORLANDO-After years of coziness, Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood and the city’s only daily newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, are going their separate ways. They won’t be sending Christmas cards to each other this year.

Hood is upset over a three-part series of articles the Sentinel ran Nov. 4-6, detailing what it describes as a sweetheart land acquisition deal between the city and Chicago-based Pritzker Realty Group. Penny Pritzker heads Pritzker Realty which is owned by one of the richest families in the United States.

A partnership controlled by the Pritzkers paid $7.6 million or $6,953 per acre (16 cents per sf) in 1999 for the 1,093-acre former Orlando Naval Training Center site which almost abuts Winter Park, one of the most affluent suburbs in Central Florida.

The Pritzkers, through their Orlando-based Baldwin Park Development Co., plan to break ground before Thanksgiving on a $1.2 billion, mixed-use enterprise that will comprise 3,000 homes and apartments, 750,000 sf of office space and 240,000 sf of other commercial/retail development at one of Central Florida’s prime locations, 10 minutes from Downtown.

Brokers call the venture the largest redevelopment undertaking in Orlando’s history. It is expected to take 20 years to complete.

In the land-buy deal, the Pritzkers paid the Navy $4.1 million. A local homeless coalition group received $3.5 million so that it would stop making further claims to the property. And the city of Orlando received nothing.

But the city advanced the Pritzkers several low-interest loans totaling about $20 million to complete the purchase, the newspaper’s veteran city hall reporter Dan Tracy reported.

“The Sentinel seems to think the city should have made money in the Navy base closure,” Hood writes in a Sentinel op-ed Sunday column. “Guess what? The property was never ours to sell. It was the Navy’s.”

GlobeSt.com offered Hood an opportunity to comment for this article but she declined.

Hood, the former head of an Orlando public relations firm, charges the Sentinel made “several glaring omissions” in the articles. She alleges the newspaper didn’t report that Pritzker spent about $50 million in demolition and environmental costs, cleaning up the asbestos, arsenic and lead paint at the Navy base.

“While the Sentinel commended the city for its bold leadership in 1999, why now does the same reporter (Dan Tracy) who sat through many of the city council meetings and was privy to all the information for many years, decide that the city was short-changed through this process?”

Hood also maintains the newspaper didn’t report that only 535 acres of the 1,093 acres Pritzker purchased are developable.

Sentinel editor Timothy A. Franklin responded Nov. 13 in an article headlined, “Hood scolds newspaper on Baldwin.”

Franklin writes, “We’ve had an incredible outpouring of responses from readers, virtually none of whom were aware of the full extent of the city’s incentive package for the Baldwin Park developers.” He says, “That tells me that this story was worth telling to the community.”

In a lead editorial a week before Franklin’s response, the newspaper wrote, “Responsibility for debate and oversight didn’t rest with Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, who oversaw base negotiations. Others should have been paying closer attention, including members of the Orlando city council, this newspaper and other members of the media. Council members can’t blame Mrs. Hood for their failure to ask questions.”

Two days after the Nov. 7 editorial appeared, Winter Park mayor Roland F. Hotard III, criticized Hood and the city of Orlando on the Pritzker deal.

“Winter Park has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to negotiate with the city of Orlando for modifications that would benefit the existing community and the greater region,” Hotard wrote in an op-ed Sentinel article.

“Instead, as the Sentinel so lucidly articulates, behind-the-scenes deals took place to ensure that an out-of-state developer could maximize profit while leaving existing neighbors with worse roads, crowded schools, deficient recreational facilities and a community development district holding a huge debt,” Hotard writes.

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