Is City Hall Favoring Developers Over Its Own Citizens?
Denning-Area Neighbors Question City Priorities
Cut-Thru Update: City Votes Yes Despite Strong Citizen Opposition
Plea for More Study Rejected
It's Workshop Week: City Holds 3 Special Hearings/Workshops Reviewing Lee Rd. Cut-Thru & Denning/17-92 Development Over Next 7 Days
Tuesday 4/29: P&Z at noon + UP Development Presentation 5 – 7 pm at Civic Center.
Monday 5/5: City Commission Workshop at 4 pm.
City Consultant Wants Cut-Thru to Turn Toward WP Village. Also Recommends Elimination of Left Turns Onto Webster from 17-92.
This morning, the Voice obtained the City Traffic Consultant report analyzing the proposed extension of Lee Rd. to Denning. As shown in the illustration above, there are three alternatives currently being considered. The image above is taken from the report (street and place labels added by WPV).
Click the link at the end of this article to see consultant’s report.
In the report, the City’s consultant recommends “Alignment B” explaining “It is our recommendation that Alternative B with the elimination of the southbound left turn movement from US 17/92 to Webster Avenue be the preferred improvement. This alternative provides the most improvement to congestion along US 17/92 and the operations of intersections in the vicinity. This alternative also provides the most direct route for traffic that is currently traveling this way to and from the residential areas of Winter Park and for shopping/dining along South Park Avenue.”
Consultant: Cut-Thru “should not be the cause of any increased traffic on nearby residential streets . . .”
City consultant Chris Simoneaux of CES, Inc. appeared to be optimistic that the cut-thru would provide a net benefit to the city, stating “It does not appear that any of the proposed alternatives would result in an actual increase in cut-through traffic and may actually reduce traffic in some links due to the reduction in delay on US 17/92, and as it relates to this development, shorten trip lengths to this destination. Increased development in the vicinity of this site may increase overall traffic on the roadway network in the future. However, the extension of Lee Road to the east on its own should not be the cause of any increased traffic on nearby residential streets . . .”
Inside Baseball: Winter Park’s Heavy Hitters Negotiate a Stadium and Spoils of the Game
While Manatees, Rollins College & Developers Pursue Stadium-Related Revenues & Gov’t Subsidies, Citizens’ Group Petitions to Keep the Stadium Out of MLK Park
A little more than a year ago Rollins College and (presumably) other baseball principals invoked a Florida statute that kept Winter Parkers in the dark about stadium negotiations with the city. In February 2014, the news blackout expired.
Winter Park Voice has filed numerous Freedom of Information document requests with the city asking to see baseball-related email and other documents. Last week, the city released documents and email to the Voice showing what appears to be a serious negotiation by baseball principals to secure funding for a stadium at Rollins’ Harper–Shepherd field located near Orange Avenue and Denning.
If Harper-Shepherd Negotiations Fail, MLK Park is a Favored Alternative. Citizen Petitioners Claim that Stadium in MLK Will Increase Traffic/Noise & Affect Quality of Life
Recent public hearings and the city’s interest in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park as an alternative stadium location have motivated a group of citizens to mount a petition drive to keep the stadium out of the park. This citizen-led effort appears to have grown out of concerns voiced by citizens and neighborhood groups that new and proposed Denning-area development – including the prospect of an extension of Lee Road through to Denning Ave. – will choke northwest Winter Park with large buildings and traffic gridlock. As reported by the website HeartofWinterPark.com
City Manager Knight Responds to Voice Request for Clarification/Explanation of Stadium Negotiations
The Voice contacted City Manager Randy Knight last week asking for updated information, clarification of numerous points made in city emails and corrections (if any). Mr. Knight did not respond directly to any of our questions or provide any updates. He did, however, respond with a statement indicating that the ongoing negotiations are a “very complicated and fluid process” adding that he does not have “the authority to bind the city to any deal . . .” and that Jeff Eisenbarth of Rollins College “does not have the authority to bind Rollins to any deal.”
Mr. Knight also said that some of the information we gathered from city email (and questioned him about) was “outdated”, but did not offer any correction or update of the information. The full text of Mr. Knight’s response to Voice questions is shown at the end of this story. A key memo referenced by Mr. Knight is shown below.
Will Rollins’ Harper-Shepherd Field Get the Nod?
Documents provided by the city include a “Term Sheet” memo, submitted by the Manatees’ David Freeman on March 28 that spells out terms of a proposed deal “. . . under which City, Rollins, and Manatees will agree to jointly fund construction of a new baseball stadium to be owned by Rollins and a new parking garage to be owned by City, and under which Manatees will agree to relocate Florida State League professional baseball club to Winter Park in Spring 2016.”
On April 1, City Manager Randy Knight added his comments to the “Term Sheet” memo modifying and correcting various aspects of the terms proposed by the principals. Among the original terms put forward by the principals was a request that the city build a parking garage on land next to Harper-Shepherd field owned by Rollins College.
The projected cost to build the stadium garage (to be paid mostly by the city) is $6 million, $2 million of which will be paid by the Manatees baseball organization.
The principals indicate that Rollins will contribute Harper-Shepherd Field and adjoining land plus an additional $4.25 million for the stadium project.
The city’s total contribution could go as high as $6.3 million, most of which would be taken from city CRA funds – if Orange County officials agree to extend the life span of the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency).
Baseball Principals Lean Heavily on Gov’t Programs Designed to Help Low-Income Communities
The proposed agreement counts on city CRA money and a $7.5 million federal tax break for the principals. The tax break comes from a program – the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) – set up by the federal government to encourage development in disadvantaged communities.
IRS guidelines describe the reason Congress set up the NMTC program as follows:
“This Code section permits individual and corporate taxpayers to receive a credit against federal income taxes for making Qualified Equity Investments (QEIs) in qualified community development entities (CDEs).
These investments are expected to result in the creation of jobs and material improvement in the lives of residents of low-income communities. Examples of expected projects include financing small businesses, improving community facilities such as daycare centers, and increasing home ownership opportunities . . .”
Is Stadium Use of Funds Intended for Westside Development an Appropriate Use of CRA Money?
Commissioners who oppose use of city money to build the baseball stadium may find themselves in bind when a final stadium deal goes up for a vote. Those who espouse a “no city money” position may be forced to defend a deeply finessed definition of “city money.”
We asked Randy Knight to explain the justification for possible use of CRA funds for the stadium project. We also requested a clarification as to whether CRA funds are fundamentally the same as any other city tax revenues – except that they are earmarked for community redevelopment. Mr. Knight did not respond to these questions.
History of the Deal: City Didn’t Like Manatees’ Original Offer – Wanted to Avoid Perception that
The initial terms proposed by David Freeman in a March phone conversation with Randy Knight apparently did not include any upfront cash contribution by the Manatees. In a follow-up email to Freeman and others on March 17, Knight rejects Freeman’s offer saying “. . . I have given a lot of thought to the proposed deal David described to me on the phone last week and I do not believe I would be able to get the Commission’s vote to support it.”
Knight Outlines Objections to Team Owners’ Initial Offer:
Knight then offered a counter-proposal warning “I don’t want to drag this out until August if this [ Freeman’s ] proposed deal is the best we can do. I offer the below proposal that I believe I can in good conscience recommend to the City Commission.”
Knight’s Counter-Proposal Paves Way for Current Deal
Knight Adds Deal-Sweetener. Freeman Responds.
Knight sweetened his proposed terms with an offer to share a projected $3.5 – 4 million funding shortfall, saying he “could support recommending that the City put in 1/3rd of the shortfall (with conditions that the parking garage is available during non-game times for other use) if Rollins and the Team find the other 2/3rds either up front or through shared revenues. Otherwise, I think this site is off the table and we need to focus on one of the two sites with developer participation to make up the shortfall.” The next day, Freeman responded:
“If you recognize the $5 million purchase price of the team, your NMTC increases by $1.25 million……and the guy writing that check doesn’t feel as slighted by the skin-in-the-game analysis.
It appears that the bottom-line is the addition of a $6M city-owned parking garage and the request for the team to contribute $2M of that $6M. Not an unreasonable request if the team can find additional sponsorship revenue to recover that outlay.
Below [ city counter-offer ] does not address a solution for the annual lost revenue that the club suffers as a result of smaller, cheaper stadium. Again, maximizing sponsorship revenue appears to be the most realistic path to recovering this foregone revenue.”
The Voice asked Randy Knight whether the city’s contribution of $1+ million “shortfall” money (additional to the $5 million CRA money) would come from the general fund – and, if not, where the city would find the money? Mr. Knight did not respond to the questions.
Path to Gov’t $$$ for Stadium Leads Principals to Tallahassee and Washington D.C.
Email exchanges among the principals over the past month indicate strong interest in tapping multiple government subsidies to secure the stadium deal. On April 2, team owner Tom Winters forwarded this news item to Mayor Bradley, Randy Knight and others:
Rollins Hopes Congressman John Mica Can Help Rollins Seal Stadium Deal
In a 3/25 email to the principals, Rollins’ VP for Business and Finance Jeffrey Eisenbarth notes that Rollins may be able to tap its Washington connections:
“President Duncan mentioned again yesterday that John Mica would still like to do something for the College but it needs to be “transportation” related. A parking garage is transportation related so we should approach John from a combined City and College perspective and see if he can get us the $6M for the parking garage . . .”
The Voice asked Randy Knight whether principals are still pursuing the Mica “Transportation” funding option. Mr. Knight did not respond to the question.
Without Mica, Who Will Cover Stadium $$$ Shortfall? Rollins’ VP: “We can do that.”
In the same 3/25 email, Eisenbarth concludes that Rollins can find the funds necessary to close the deal:
If Rollins’ Harper-Shepherd Deal Falls Apart, Other Developers Ready to Move Forward
The Harper-Shepherd agreement, if ultimately approved, leaves developer Dan Bellows empty-handed – despite his two-year campaign to have the stadium built in Ravaudage. In Part 2 of this story, we will examine the long, colorful history of stadium negotiations between the city and other developers.
Full Text of Knight Response to Winter Park Voice
Shown below is the full text of City Manager Randy Knight responding to our questions asking for clarification, correction and updating of the information we found in city emails submitted to the Voice last week:
Lee Road “Punch-Through” Travels a Long and Winding Road
|In response to citizens’ questions about the planned extension of Lee Road through to Denning Avenue, the Mayor, Commissioners and City Manager maintain that the decision is “out of their hands” and will be decided by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
The Lee Road extension has languished on FDOT’s priority list since 2004. With developments popping up like mushrooms in northwest Winter Park, however, there is renewed interest in reconfiguring the intersection of Lee Road and 17-92 and extending Lee Road through to Denning Drive.
MetroPlan Orlando, City Officials, Experts & Citizens Guide FDOT Decisions
FDOT Public Information Specialist Jessica Keane was willing to shed some light on how this process works, explaining that the planning process begins not with FDOT, but with MetroPlan Orlando (MPO), the “metropolitan planning organization for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties – the Orlando Urban Area — and provides the forum for elected officials, their staff, citizens, and industry experts to work together to improve transportation in Central Florida.” FDOT only adds projects to its priority list which are first recommended to them by MPO.
The MPO Board is made up of 25 mayors, commissioners and various officials from transportation agencies. Serving on the current board are the mayors of Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Kissimmee, Orlando, Orange County, and Sanford. While Winter Park has no representation on the MetroPlan board, Mayor Kenneth W. Bradley, with City Manager Randy Knight as his alternate, sits on the 15-member MPO Municipal Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the MPO for their consideration.
Lee Road #10 on the Priority List
The MPO creates a Prioritized Project List for the FDOT. The current list, dated September 11, 2013, puts the Lee Road extension at #10. The components of the project currently unfunded include the preliminary engineering design, construction and right of way acquisition.
Frank J. O’Dea, P.E., Director of Transportation Development, Florida Department of Transportation, District 5, provided the Voice a copy of the 2004 Project Development and Environmental Study (PD&E) concerning the Lee Road extension. The 2004 PD&E contains the history of this road extension proposal, and it makes clear that the City of Winter Park was a full partner in the decision to add this project to the priority list.
City Gave Thumbs-Up to Punch-Through 10 Years Ago
According to Mr. O’Dea, officials of any city are actively involved in decisions concerning a road project that will directly affect that city.
For example, the 2004 PD&E includes a June 2, 2004, Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Winter Park and FDOT, signed by then Mayor Kenneth Marchman, which states, “. . .the parties hereto mutually agree that the extension of Lee Road to Denning Drive and the improvements to 17-92 from Norfolk Avenue to Monroe Street, will benefit the traveling public and will enhance the transportation system in the area.”
O’Dea explained, “Since the PD&E is several years old, the Department would need to update the traffic reports that formed the basis of the PD&E to see if the assumptions made at that time revealed the same conclusions. Since there is some renewed interest in this project, the Department is moving ahead with the traffic reevaluation.”
Large Turn-Out for 2003 Hearings
According to the 2004 document, public workshops and hearings were held to give residents and businesses an opportunity to voice their opinions. The first public workshop, held April 23, 2002, was attended by 41 people who expressed no opposition to the project. At a second Public Workshop on May 8, 2003, however, at which 81 residents were present, “Opposition to the Lee Road extension was voiced by several members of the communities located near and north of Park Avenue and Denning Drive.”
On November 13, 2003, a formal Public Hearing was held, “which approximately 85 persons attended.” Written comments were submitted as part of the official public record, but those were not included in the PD&E provided to the Voice by FDOT.
Ms. Keane acknowledged that turnouts, respectively, of 81 and 85 people are significant for a Public Hearing for a road project.
Despite residents’ dissent, the conclusion drawn in 2004 through the Public Involvement portion of the study states: “FDOT developed the proposed project with input and consensus from representatives from local government agencies including MetroPlan Orlando, and the City of Winter Park, as well as from the general community. As a result of this extensive public involvement program, potential public controversy was minimized.”
Ten years later, MetroPlan Orlando Executive Director Harold Barley wrote in an email, “We have a long-standing interest in addressing the traffic congestion on US17-92 between Webster Avenue and Lee Road. The current Webster Avenue-Lee Road configuration is the cause of the problem and earlier work concluded that the only effective fix was the Lee Road extension.
MetroPlan Director: New WP Development Is “Good Reason” to Consider Accelerating Punch-Through
“At the rate things are going with federal and state funding for projects such as this, it’s going to take a number of years to get to this one. I’m not aware of any current activity on the project — but the new development that’s underway on both sides of US17-92 in that area gives us a good reason to dust off plans and to bring some people together to see where things stand, how current development plans fit with earlier work . . . and to see if things might possibly be accelerated.”
Sprinkel Opposes Lee Road Extension
In a recent interview with the Voice, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel stated, “I don’t support a punch-through. . . I don’t want to make it easy to have a big flow-through there [ at Denning ].” (See Video @ 14:00)
McMacken Calls for Public Workshop
At the March 24, 2014, Commission Meeting, Commissioner Tom McMacken said that FDOT had stated their intention not to conduct a new PD&E. McMacken called for the city, the city’s traffic consultant and FDOT to hold a public workshop to inform citizens about the status of the Lee Road extension and to provide a forum for their comments. The commissioners did not reach any decision on the subject of a public meeting.
UP Developer Will Help Pay for Punch-Through If Necessary
Asked whether he intended to donate right of way or funds to facilitate the process, UP Development’s Scott Fish wrote that his company “will provide any assistance necessary to provide proper access and circulation to this project [ UP Development at Webster and US 17-92 ] including the acquisition of ROW [ right of way ] and contributions to road construction cost.”
City Manager Randy Knight wrote that discussions with Mr. Fish about UP Development’s involvement in the road extension “are still ongoing.”
Will Winter Park Play Ball?
Possible Stadium Deal Has Potential to Fast-Forward Development of NW Winter Park – including Lee Rd. “Punch-Thru” to Denning Dr.
On January 21, the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) joined Mayor Bradley and city officials in an in-depth discussion of stadium-building and related development in and around Denning Drive and 17-92.
Included in the discussion was the possibility of a developer-driven revival of the Dept. of Transportation’s long-planned “Punch-Thru” of Lee Road to Denning Drive. Click video image below to see the “Punch-Thru” excerpt from the 1/21 EDAB hearing.
The Manatees, or the “Tees,” as they are affectionately known, are currently using the 8,100-seat Space Coast Stadium in Viera, which is too large, both for the intimate nature of minor league baseball and for the declining wealth and population in Brevard County brought on by the withdrawal of the NASA space program.
The Manatees are an “Advanced A” or “High A” level team that is part of the 12-team Florida State League. Their major league affiliate is the Milwaukee Brewers.
The ‘Tees are now looking inland to greater Orlando which, according to the Madison Consulting Group, who prepared a Facility Assessment study for the City of Winter Park, “is currently the largest market in the country without regular season-affiliated professional baseball.” While the market area is Central Florida, Winter Park is squarely in the cross-hairs for targeting a stadium location.
At the January 13, 2014, City Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight requested and the Commission authorized a 45-day period to further study the feasibility of bringing minor league baseball to Winter Park.
City Staff: Give Us Five Months to Negotiate Best Deal for City.
As the 45-day review period draws to a close, the Commission has scheduled a 4pm workshop meeting for Monday, February 17, to consider a newly-released staff report that recommends moving forward with negotiations. City staff envisions a 5-month evaluation process ending in August, at which time “staff hopes to be in the position to make recommendations that will include whether or not moving forward makes sense and if so, a ranking of the sites, how the stadium project could be funded, proposed deal terms/agreements and who should throw out the first pitch.”
Rollins’ Harper Shepherd Field Back in Play as Possible Stadium Site.
Earlier this year, Rollins College was negotiating possible equity partnership in the minor league baseball effort, but the Rollins Board of Trustees voted to withdraw because of the expense of reorienting and enlarging Harper Shepherd Field and because they felt unable to meet the Manatees’ schedule requirements of a 2015 opening. Rollins subsequently expressed interest in “becoming a tenant” if a new stadium is built. But now, Rollins has re-emerged as a possible partner to the City and the Manatees. The new city staff report acknowledges that “after discussion with Rollins representatives, the Harper Shepherd Field site was added back as a potential site.”
City “Tree Farm” on Lee Rd. Eliminated as Stadium Site.
While suggesting that “other sites could surface as feasible during the next phase of the study if we proceed,” city staffers reversed course on the tree farm – eliminating the city-owned property “as a potential stadium site at this time” explaining that “lack of good access, visibility and the neighborhood impacts led staff to remove that site from current consideration.”
Stadium Economics 101: What Are Costs/Benefits?
As of now, the current “short list” of sites includes Martin Luther King, Jr., Park on Denning, the Ravaudage development on Lee Road, the current site of the VoTech school on Webster & Denning and Harper Shepherd field.
The city staff report’s cursory financial analysis of each site indicates that the “Funding Gap” in each case – the funds needed to develop a site in addition to the dollars contributed by the principals – ranges from $11 million (Harper Shepherd) to $35.5 million (Ravaudage).
He summed up the project’s net benefit by concluding that “First and foremost, the economic benefit that comes from a place like this is outside the park . . . I think if most municipalities figure out a way to have some return and/or break even for the amenity, they probably are ahead of the game.” Click video image above to see EDAB discussion of potential stadium revenues.
The “team” of major players that is beginning to coalesce around the Manatees’ relocation to Winter Park includes Manatees owner and local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Tom Winters; Scott Fish, principal of Nashville-based UP Development – developer of the Lee Rd./17-92 Corporate Square site which will include the new Whole Foods Market; Tennessee native David S. Freeman, part owner of the Nashville Predators hockey team; Rollins College; and, the city of Winter Park.
In his January 30 email to Scott Fish, City Manager Randy Knight updates the developer on stadium funding progress and negotiations with Orange County concerning acquisition of the VoTech site:
“We have made some additional progress since our last discussion. We have explored a few different ways to plug our funding gap and while we don’t have it all figured out yet we have learned a lot. I have had conversations with the Orange County School board employee in charge of facilities and he has committed to me that he would let me know by the end of next week what the options would be to acquire the property as well as what the process would be.”
>>Click UP Development image below to see full site plan.
Will Developer Interest in Lee Rd. “Punch-Thru” Influence DOT Plans?
On February 12, Randy Knight responded to questions from the Winter Park Voice, explaining the City’s approach to UP Development and clarifying ownership of the Manatees – including Mr. Freeman’s possible involvement.
In his emailed response, Knight wrote, “I am the one who pitched the idea to Mr. Fish about considering a stadium as part of his development . . . Dr. Tom Winters continues to be the owner. A gentleman by the name of David Freeman has an option to buy a portion of the team from Dr. Winters.”
Dr. Winters and potential owner David S. Freeman appear to favor locating the stadium either in MLK Park or on the present Votech school site. Mr. Freeman wrote in an email to Mayor Bradley and City Manager Knight, “First, Tom is supportive and enthusiastic regarding the “school” site. Thus, as long as the City can acquire title to the site without any strings attached, we would be happy on that site.”
Déjà Vu All Over Again: Predators & UP’s Scott Fish Partnered In Nashville-Area Stadium Project.
David Freeman and Scott Fish may have an opportunity to team up again if Winter Park chooses to build a stadium on the VoTech site next to Fish’s Up Development site. In recent years, Fish and investor David Freeman’s Predators worked together to keep the Franklin, Tennessee A-Game Sportsplex near Nashville afloat. Freeman also poured millions into the Predators hockey franchise. The Predators play at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville, a few miles from the Grand Ole Opry.
As reported by Tennessean online news in April 2012, David Freeman “spearheaded the purchase of the team in 2007 to prevent it from being sold to a Canadian businessman intent on moving the Predators out of Nashville, [ and ] remains a member of the ownership group. Click to read Tennessean article.
UP Development’s Scott Fish Expands His Orlando-Area Real Estate Holdings.
Mr. Fish specializes in rehabilitating distressed properties and has acquired under-performing Orlando-area properties in recent years, including the Fashion Square Mall, Toys-R-Us and the Robb & Stucky store in Altamonte Springs – a property he recently sold to the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who will relocate their Winter Park headquarters there.
UP Development’s website describes the company as a “premier retail developer focused predominately in the Southeastern United States. With over 20 years of experience. UP Development has positioned itself as a go to shop for developers, financiers, and owners with troubled assets that require creative and unique workout solutions.”
Click to see UP Development website.
In an interview with the Voice, Bob King, Head Baseball Coach of Winter Park High School whose son Stephen has been playing in the minor leagues since 2006, observed that the minor league games provide affordable entertainment for families – often drawing crowds by including interactive events such as Bring Your Dog Night, or nights when kids in the audience are invited to come down on the field and run the bases. On off season evenings, minor league fields are often used for other cultural events, Coach King explained, like a symphony playing “Mozart on the Mound.”
Joey DiFrancesco, the Assistant Baseball Coach at Winter Park High, is also a big fan of minor league baseball. “As a teacher,” he told the Voice, “I am priced out of the Magic games for me and my kids . . . but if we had a minor league team, I would be the first in line.”
Winter Park Voice will expand its coverage of the UP development site on 17-92 and other Denning area developments – including the proposed stadium site search & negotiations – in future stories.
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