Budget Blows a Hole in the Canopy

Project Still Doesn’t Fit the Budget

Budget Blows a Hole in the Canopy

News Flash

A small item on the City Manager’s Report at the January 14 Commission meeting stated, “Library Design: Project pricing came back on design development drawings and the project is over budget.”

Getting the Project Back to the Level It Should Be

Commissioner Greg Seidel asked City Manager Randy Knight to elaborate. “Staff continues to work with the design team,” said Knight, “trying to bring the project in on the budget the Commission’s adopted. . . . Once we get the project to the level it should be,” Knight said, “I’ll be bringing [the design] back to the City Commission . . . along with some add-alt opportunities” so the Commission can decide if they will try to fund those and, if so, how.

Should We Wait to Demolish the Murrah Civic Center?

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper attempted to make a motion to delay demolition of the Rachel Murrah Civic Center and removal of surrounding trees until the Commission has a clearer idea of how they are moving forward with the Canopy project. Cooper was, however, ruled out of order by Mayor Steve Leary because, he said, the item was not on the agenda as an action item and had not been publicly noticed.

‘Small Group of Citizens Increased Costs’

Leary went on to state, “The only increased cost to taxpayers so far has been the lawsuit brought against the taxpayers and the voters in the city by a small group. That has cost us in legal bills; that has cost us in delays. So, additional monies that must be spent to move this forward, as of today, have not been due to overages because we’re still working through the budget.”

Citizens Sought to Prevent Library Location in MLK Park

Leary was referring to the Save Our Library WP PAC’s 2016 petition drive to prevent the new library from being located in Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Park. The PAC gathered 2,300 voters’ signatures in what was supposed to be a Citizens’ Initiative, which has no deadline. The City Clerk declared the petitions “insufficient,” insisting they constituted “reconsideration of a referendum,” for which the deadline had passed. The court upheld the City, and the library location was never put to a vote. According to the City Manager, the lawsuit cost the City $32,878 – slightly less than it would have cost to put the matter of location to a vote of the people.

Bond Validation Suit – ‘A Wise Investment’

The City also spent $168,881 on a Bond Validation Suit to protect the City from future legal challenge regarding the bond issue. The successful Bond Validation Suit had the added advantage of allowing the bonds to be sold at a more favorable rate. According to an attorney who was close to the situation, who asked not to be identified, “Any expenditures associated with the bond validation will be recovered over the life of the bonds and represents a wise investment on the part of the City.”

So, What Do We Know Now about Projected Costs for the Canopy?

A November 2018 email from City Clerk Cindy Bonham summarizes spending and funding sources on the Library-Event Center as of September 30, 2018.

On Nov 9, 2018, at 2:13 PM, Cindy Bonham <CBonham@cityofwinterpark.org> wrote:

Current Cost Projections


In a January 16 email to the Voice, City Manager Knight sent the most current figures available at that date which, he cautioned, are nowhere near final. “At the stage this spreadsheet was developed the base project would be 12.5 percent above budget,” he wrote. The “base project” he refers to is the library-event center without a single one of the add alternates – including the porte cochere at the entrance.

“Once the design team has managed to bring the cost of the base project to within budget,” wrote Knight, “we will present the Commission a list of add alternates that we think they may wish to consider along with potential ways to fund those alternates.”

Project Status – Only the Numbers Will Change

While Knight’s numbers will definitely change, the information he provided presents a good picture of the shape of the project and where each element now stands.

Is $30 Million Enough?

From these numbers, it would appear the original $30M budget, which was supposed to include a comfortable cushion, barely covers two of the three items on the March 15, 2016 ballot, which called for a library, events center and associated parking structure.

The associated parking structure has morphed into expanded surface parking on and around MLK Park. The library has gone from 50,000 square feet to a little over 34,000 square feet. The event center will be slightly larger than the current Civic Center, estimated at 12,600 square feet.

The enhancements envisioned for the project, such as the porte cochere at the entrance, the exterior amphitheater, the interior raked auditorium and the rooftop venue stand to shoot the budget into the stratosphere, adding between $10 and $14 Million to the cost of a $30 Million project.

The Real Work Begins

To bring this Canopy dream to fruition will take some serious compromise and fundraising of mythic proportion.

  • author's avatar

    By: Anne Mooney

    Anne Mooney has assumed the editorship of the Winter Park Voice from founding editor Tom Childers.

    Mooney got her start in New York as a freelance line editor for book publishers, among them Simon & Schuster and the Clarkson Potter division of Crown Books. From New York, she and her husband and their year-old toddler moved to Washington, D.C., where the two ran a newswire service for Harper’s magazine. “We called it Network News,” said Mooney, “because it was a network of the Harper’s writers, whose work we edited into newspaper style and format and sold to papers in the top U.S. and Canadian markets. We were sort of like a tiny UPI.”

    The newswire ceased operation with the death of Mooney’s first husband, but Mooney continued to write and edit, doing freelance work for Williams Sonoma cookbooks and for local publications in D.C.

    In 2005, Mooney moved to Winter Park, where she worked as a personal chef and wrote a regular food column for a south Florida magazine. She took an active interest in Winter Park politics and was there when the Winter Park Voice was founded. She wrote occasional pieces for the Voice, including the Childers bio that this piece replaces.

    The Winter Park Voice is one of a large number of “hyper-local” publications that have sprung up across the U.S. in response to the decline of the major daily newspapers and the resulting deficit of local news coverage. The Voice’sbeat is Winter Park City Hall, and its purpose is to help the residents of our city better understand the political forces that shape our daily lives.

  • author's avatar

20 replies
  1. Barbara says:

    Wait a minute, wasn’t the library originally responsible for a $250k contribution? Why has it been reduced to $50,000, less than 1% of the total costs?

    Mayor Leary and his two amigos giving him a majority vote, and boards stacked with pro library and Rollins individuals have wrecked any chance for reasonable oversight on this project. That’s why we’re in this pickle. The lack of diversity and professionals (using friends instead) has created a vacuum for informative decision-making. Shouldn’t someone with experience in capital projects been appointed to the original task force instead of the Rollins cronies.

    The library boondoggle needs a pause until we can gain control of this runaway robbery.

    Hiring the star-chitect Sir David Adjaye was the first mistake. Did the decision to hire him ever follow a public process? It seems that he suddenly showed up one day with zero discussion of contenders. Adjaye’s projects across the country are typically either federal or state buildings, very few municipal structures because he is so godawful expensive. The few municipal projects were for cities the size of Denver.

    Central Florida has a lot of creative talent. We didn’t need an outsider who doesn’t understand Florida’s landscape. And, we certainly didn’t need to dump a fortune into former Commissioner Tom McMacken’s wife’s business.

    We receive nothing more for this $30 million project that is now $10 million over budget and we haven’t even broken ground. Leadership has created a swirl of controversy and distrust by following the WP good old boy credo 1) dismiss other voices, we’ll call the shots, and 2) even when problems arise, shove the project forward, don’t stop.

    These fragile Commission egos are getting in the way of common sense.

    • Kathryn says:

      Barbara, you are so right.

      Mayor Leary has a great knack for throwing out Straw Man arguments to shut people up.

      Next time he pulls a stunt like blaming Michael Poole for the library’s cost overruns someone needs to publicly call him on it.

      If there are any cost overruns it’s been in time and treasure wasted by the City thus far.

      We need to go back and ask ourselves: Are we building a new library for our citizens or a monument to the City.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Maybe we should abandon sinkhole central and just renovate the existing library—— or move City Hall to the library property and build a new central library events center there. We can save money because we won’t need a parking lot or a garage, we can build it under the “fee in lieu of parking” rule and just pay ourselves LOL.

  3. David Hayes says:

    I am concerned that we are now getting a new library only slightly larger than the one we have?
    I, and I believe others, were led to believe that we would be getting a much larger facility and now it seems it is only slightly larger than what we have in the existing facility.

    I voted for the new facility but now wonder if that was a wise choice given the changes and the budget overruns.

  4. Former library donor says:

    I’m looking at both sets of Cost Projections listed in the article. Where is Sir David Adjaye’s fee? It can’t be in the expenses thru 9/30/18 because the Hunter Brady amount is 900,982.51. Is it buried in the 1/9/19 numbers under Base Canopy Project – Construction totaling 24 million? Taxpayers have the right to know how much Sir David was paid especially since he did not design the parking structure that was part of the referendum that the voters approved.

  5. $7 Million For Nothing says:

    I like the line item “Soft Costs.”

    This represents nothing, literally.

    They could call it “Nothing” but it sounds so much better to say “Soft Costs.”

    “Soft Costs’ doesn’t include ANY building materials.

    No windows. No doors. No walls, No foundations, No roof.

    Fees, folks. Fees.

    So where’s the itemization of “Soft Costs”

  6. What’s in a name? says:

    This report reminded me there were residents, who seemed like chicken little types warning everyone the sky is falling, calling it the CONopy not too long ago…….I pray they weren’t right.

  7. Late Fees and Overdue Fines says:

    This is one of the largest public works projects in the city’s history:
    Where are total costs for this project – both direct and indirect—aggregated in one place, for all to see?
    If Commissioner Weldon touts his financial expertise, when did it evaporate?

    Are you satisfied with the level of transparency and openness that this leadership is affording?
    Will this blow-out budget suck up all the available CRA dollars for years to come? At what cost to other sectors?

    Do you realize that up to 60 trees will be torn down on the NW corner of MLK Jr Park to make way for this project?
    This is, after all, a city park.
    Do you know that there is a way to save the larger specimen trees, but that plan has been rejected?
    60 trees which, even when replaced, will not reach their maturity in our lifetimes. Gone.
    Canopy indeed.

    Why has there been no public commission budget workshop on this project since April, 2018?
    Would you build a house without sitting down with contractor to ask questions for almost a year?

    Shrinking square footage: from a promise of 50,000 sf, to 39,450 sf, to 35,690 sf, coming in for a landing at 34,400 sf Library.
    (The current existing Library is 33,794 sf)

    There goes the Park — From pledges to take only 8% of MLK Jr Park’s footprint to consuming over 15% of our greenspace.
    Development seems to be winning in Winter “Park”.

    Will I write my first check to support this project because it has been forthcoming, above board and fiscally honest?

  8. Laurel says:

    A note of correction: if you look back at the original project cost, the total project was always projected at 32.5 million: 30 million from the bond referendum and 2.5 million from the library. The library issued a press release about raising 1.2 million already. And while the $$ amount of the lawsuit is small, the real cost is the delay. If you wanted all the facts, you should ask a real estate developer CURRENTLY working in development to give you an idea of what escalation of costs looks like from 2017 until now. I can’t imagine that immigration and tariff consequences haven’t driven up labor and construction costs.

    • Bond...but not James says:

      Laurel –
      Really? You carry the water so well.
      The lawsuits were concluded long ago. Two years. Not a shovel turned. Add alts abound. No hard numbers for months and months.

      Cooper voted NO on the conditional use for just that reason.

      Peter “I’m a financial genius” voted YES. He did it with no known budget before him.

      Check the minutes, Laurel, and put the buckets down.

  9. Bill says:

    Hey Laurel, could you post the press release about the funds raised. If this is a city employee, please identify yourself.

    A delay was caused by a tone deaf commission who disregarded citizens’ will and objections.

    The city is significantly bleeding our money; quit making excuses for poor governance and incompetence.

  10. This horse is no longer fogging the mirror says:

    The code of tribal wisdom says that when you are riding a dead horse the best strategy is to dismount.

    We often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following: buying a stronger whip; changing riders; saying things like “this is the way we have always ridden this horse; appointing a committee to study the horse; arranging to visit other firms to see how they ride dead horses; increasing the standards to ride dead horses; declaring that the horse is better faster and cheaper dead; and finally, harnessing dead horses together for increased speed.”

    Thomas Penfield Jackson

  11. Sandy Womble says:

    Leary blaming residents for the inflated costs of the library due to legal bills brought on by a lawsuit doesn’t add up.
    The city spent a paltry $32,000 on legal fees versus the now $10,000,000 projected increase in library costs. There is no comparison and Leary knows it.
    The referendum squeaked through by a 2% win with a difference of 214 votes out of 10,618.
    The library PAC threw at the voters every conceivable dreamed-up reason to move the library, hoping something would stick. The Mayor, at one point, even sent out an official letter to the voters promising, with authority and conviction, that a move across town was best for us.
    The Save the Library (SOL) PAC presented the facts and spent zero on media mailers, compared to the Library PAC and City sponsored media blitz.
    Yet the SOL PAC, in its pursuit of honesty and clarity, managed to win 5202 voters, and their position that a larger library was unnecessary has now been confirmed.
    When the task force was created, a few residents collected over 450 signatures requesting the Commission and the Task Force consider leaving the library in its current location. The mayor threw those signatures out immediately — BEFORE the task force even began their investigation of renovation versus relocation.
    The SOL PAC people then collected 2,300 signatures for a re-vote after it was discovered the new library would be built in MLK Park — information deliberately left off the referendum. The city finagled the dismissal of that petition as well, through the courts.
    Shame on these individuals who have been so gung-ho in vacating the current library prime real estate that they failed to consider all options on the table. The lack of citizen input was glaring and resulted in the predictable outcome of a lawsuit. This has been an eye-opener civics lesson on how to mismanage a project and shut out public process!

    The reason people don’t trust government and are constantly accusing politicians of being loose with their money is illustrated here in the last few years, as a small group of individuals decided what they wanted and pursued their dream ignoring growing dissent. Irresponsible spending and snake oil schemes will be the legacy of the Liebrary Commission.

    • Steven Lester says:

      If you consider all ballots cast the Yes votes were about 48%. About 5-6% of ballots cast elected not to vote on the referendum. Any claim that those 5-6% were over votes or poorly marked ballots is false as the same ballots got nearly all ballots marked properly for the Presidential primary which was top of ballot. Florida courts have ruled only Yes or No votes should be counted which is a poor decision in my opinion. Those 5-6% of ballots represent abstaining on the issue. Any tax increase should require that the Yes vote gets 50% plus 1 of all ballots cast; we should add abstain as the 3rd option on these issues.
      It is straightforward math the referendum did not get a majority vote of all voters who voted. Once the City Commission admits this they will come to grasp why the community has not been all in for this project. Further if such ballot initiatives had to list estimate of total interest cost over the length of the bond I am pretty sure it would fail by a large majority.
      Facts are poison to politics

      • Pitt Warner says:

        WP elections have been close for decades. Your comment led me to Bill Cowles website. In 2016 about 340 more people cast a ballot on the library question than the total votes in the Weldon victory. In fact, in Weldon’s race there was 1% margin of victory and there were 1,100 under votes. I don’t agree with your opinion b/c I think it would create chaos, but I see POV.

  12. Nora French says:

    I do not know why people thought we needed a new library in the first place.Our existing library has only a few problems. We have a library that has very limited hours–closes at 5pm on Saturdays, and opens for a few hours on Sunday. The library can’t even afford two sets of the most popular PBS video series: After waiting weeks for them because they are so used one gets scratched videos and can not enjoy them in peace. Lastly will say I have never had a problem getting a parking place even during early voting. So why did not they leave the library alone and put a little money into doubling popular video series. I for one will not be driving across town to the Canopy. And what does the name Canopy has to do with a library. If the city wanted an entertainment establishment why didn’t they say so and leave the library alone except for upgrades.

    • AV says:

      Amen to that last sentence. I think we know why they can’t leave the library….Rollins wants/needs it. I’ll eat my hat if they (or their hotel complex) don’t end up with it.


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