City Seeks Tourism Dollars to Fill Library Funding Gaps

City Seeks Tourism Dollars to Fill Library Funding Gaps

Hoping to raise more money for the city’s planned library and events center, a group of Winter Park officials is asking Orange County for $6 million in tourism tax revenue. The focus of their pitch isn’t books, but the number of tourists the Canopy project could lure to the city.

The carefully organized group, which included Mayor Steve Leary, City Manager Randy Knight, pitched the project to an Orange County review committee as a tourism magnet that will fill new city hotels and help local businesses.

The public was not invited to the February 18 gathering at the County Commission chambers. While both Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel and Pete Weldon were present in the chambers, Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Greg Seidel were absent. Cooper said she was not told about it. “The only information shared with me was that one of several possible funding sources was a grant from TDT ARC. I was not told about the meeting or the presentation,” she said when questioned about her absence. Commissioner Greg Seidel stated that he had reviewed the grant application prior to the meeting and had offered his “two cents,” but has not engaged in raising funds for the project.

Canopy As Tourist Magnet

Tourism development taxes are charged on short-term rentals such as hotels, motels and AirBnb properties. Typical uses of the money permitted under state law include construction of such tourism meccas as convention centers, sports stadiums and museums. Libraries aren’t tourist draws, but the Winter Park group clearly believed a grand event center designed by a famous architect might be.

Mayor Leary opened the discussion with a power point on Sir David Adjaye, the internationally famed British architect chosen to design the project, called the Canopy. Leary touted Sir David’s knighthood by Prince William and flipped through photos of Adjaye’s many government and institutional buildings, pointing out Adjaye’s work draws visitors “from around the world.”

Adjaye Design Offers “A State Asset Open to All Classes”

Adjaye sent a specially made video in which he commented on Winter Park’s unique character. “Winter Park is an extraordinary and small community in Orlando but has extraordinary ambition with incredible leadership. . . The library and events center project came from a very rigorous study of the climate and culture.” Adjaye predicted the $40 million project would become a “. . .state asset and be open to all social classes.”

Also speaking on behalf of the city were David Odahowski, President and CEO of the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation (EBCF), and Jane Hames, a member of the newly formed Chamber of Commerce Tourism Advisory Board. Former Mayor Ken Bradley was in attendance.

Edyth Bush Foundation Donates $750K

Odahowski announced that the Edyth Bush foundation would bestow an unprecedented matching grant of $750,000 on the Canopy project. Noting that the foundation is the third largest donor in the history of Rollins College, Odahowski characterized Winter Park as “an authentic cultural mecca” that takes its role in the regional tourism industry very seriously. “The Canopy will enhance our tourist destination and put heads in beds stimulating additional hospitality options [hotels] . . . stores staying open late. . . restaurants packed with diners. . .ringing cash registers, generating sales tax revenue and attracting more tourists,” said Odahowski.

“The Canopy Events Center will be a cornerstone for a tourism strategy enhancing our ability to host larger meetings, celebrations and trainings. . .With your support the Canopy will launch the next ‘Golden Age’ of Winter Park tourism,” he said.

Welcome Mat is Out for Tourists

City Manager Randy Knight predicted the Canopy project will conservatively result in over 5,200 additional hotel stays per year and over one million dollars in hotel revenue. Currently there are three new hotels under construction and two others in the public approval process.

He predicted the Canopy will be more sought after as a wedding venue than the Farmer’s Market, given its architect’s international fame. Knight said the Rachel Murrah Civic Center, which has been torn down, hosted 250-400 guests. The Canopy will have four separate spaces suitable for wedding parties. Knight stated the facility will have the capacity to host statewide conventions and he estimated 1,200 Winter Park hotel stays annually from those conventions.

Knight said it’s hard to predict just how many tourists might visit the site based on its architectural merits, but he noted that more than 30,000 visitors travel annually to Florida Southern to discover Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.

New Hotels Will Accommodate Increased Tourism

Some visitors could stay at the Alfond Inn, which now is planning a 73-room addition, Knight said. According to City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs, the 110-room Hilton Garden Inn and the 120-room Spring Hill Suites by Marriott recently broke ground at Ravaudage. Three other hotels are in early stages of planning and approval. Knight stated City staff is exploring selling other city-owned properties for hotel space.

Knight noted the city’s long and close relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, which is actively recruiting tourism from Brazil and the United Kingdom. Jane Hames, who chairs the Tourism Task Force of the Winter Park Chamber said an informal Chamber study found that British residents are the largest population visiting the Chamber’s Welcome Center on Lyman Ave.

Both Knight and Leary assured the Orange County board members that the Canopy is a shovel-ready project that has “wide community support.”

Nevertheless, the Canopy project has been surrounded by debate since a $30 million bond referendum was put on the ballot in 2016 for a new library, events center and parking garage. Of the 5,411 voters, 51 percent approved the bond issue. Later that year, a group of citizens collected more than 2,000 signatures to challenge the location in Martin Luther King Park, in hopes of preserving the park’s green space. That effort failed in the courts. Recently, park patrons were furious to discover that a large number of mature trees had been removed at the site.

Although the Canopy is still in the design and development stage, Knight said a feasibility study by a professional firm shows the center will easily cover its annual expenses with a profit. Knight and Leary promised they would not seek additional operational support from the tourism revenue.

Knight displayed a chart illustrating just how important the tourism dollars are to the City’s ability to build the Canopy. Of the $40.1 million needed for construction, $28.7 million will come from the net bond issue, $5.4 million from additional community support which was not described in detail, and $6 million in tourism development money. Another potential source of funds would be the sale of the existing library property on New England Ave.

Build It & They Will Come

City leaders suggested these large numbers of tourists will generate revenue on many fronts, and the activity around the canopy will drive intense redevelopment. Mayor Leary provided an aerial view of the project, claiming it’s more than shovel ready, it is shovel active. After the project is completed, he said, the City plans to plant over 1,300-caliper-inches of trees of different species.

We’ll Know in April

According to Commissioner Greg Seidel, the project plans are at a percentage of completion “somewhere in the sixties.” Seidel explained that when the plans, including all the add-alternates, reach 80 percent completion, the Commission will have adequate information upon which to base their decisions. Seidel estimated things would come together some time in April, when the City will have nearly completed plans and will have a better idea of how much money is actually available.

To View Video of Winter Park’s Presentation, click here.

  • 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

14 replies
  1. Frustrated says:

    I moved to Winter Park specifically because it doesn’t feel like TOURIST TOWN. If I wanted to live dealing with tourists and their traffic, I would have bought in Windermere!

    Please explain how “more space for the children at the library” turned into taxing ME so tourists can enjoy the great CONopy convention and wedding space??? Errr….. I meant “library”.

    I suppose if you own a restaurant, shop or are a developer then this bait and switch results in revenue for you. However, as someone who merely lives here paying my high property taxes, I won’t see a dime of “tourist” income….just clogged roads with lost tourists in their rentals slowing everything down. Can’t wait till those tourists hit the Orange Fairbanks intersection or go around the Rollins curves. Fantastic!

    They sold us a library and are giving us tacky tourists, traffic and taking away the damn charm of our city. We already have a convention center….it’s in….TOURIST TOWN [I drive).

    All I know is Rollins better pay through the nose for that library property. We all know it. The Alford expansion filled with more ……Tourists!

    I’m voting Weaver, despite the deluge of “conservative” guilt mail I recieved this week.

  2. Donald L Thompson says:

    To make Winter Park and the CANOPY project the “ENVY OF THE WORLD” is the right way to go. I am in full support. The voters said they wanted to spend $23 to $30 Million on this project. Then why go with something less than the best. Build a learning and event center where we will all be proud. Another few million, in cost, will bring great returns. I congratulate Commission Pete Weldon and others for taking the lead on this. Winter Park, with it’s outstanding and well educated people, has the potential of being one of the world’s great meccas of learning; a place that attracts many visitors.

  3. Welfare For Polticians says:

    You know Winter Park’s politicians have really created a financial mess when they have to go begging the County for a bailout.

  4. Barbara says:

    “The city plans to plant over 1300 caliper inches of trees.” Wait, did the mayor really say that?

    Mr. Leary there is no way to put lipstick on a pig and expect anything different than a pig.

    Under your leadership with the help of Weldon, you’ve destroyed a 100 year old canopy of trees…in a park!

    Building an enormous convention center and library eliminates this park’s significance to our town. It was one of Winter Park’s largest, signature parks born from eminent domain on black residents years ago. Now it has become a playground for your special interests – national hotel chains and tourists.

    Never before have we experienced such a three ring circus – Leary, Weldon and Sprinkel. It’s time for this show to conclude and hopefully we can try to salvage what little is left after these 3 commissioners exploited our good will and good town.

  5. cjwilliams says:

    Stop the Bleeding

    Let’s be perfectly clear. This is not a Library project.

    This is an Events Center with a Library tacked on as an afterthought.
    Look at the facts.

    Original promise was a 50,000 sf Library.
    Project sf was cut back: Library: 39,450 sf; Events Center: 12,604 sf (Nov 1, 2017)
    Project sf was cut back: Library: 35,690 sf; Events Center: 13,456 sf (June-Aug 2018)
    Project sf was cut back: Library: 34,400 sf; Events Center: 13,563 (Conditional Use, Sept 24, 2018)
    (Note: Existing Library is 33,794 sf; Existing Events Center is 11,852 sf)

    Can you say Quagmire?

    No Parking Garage as called for in referendum
    No Covered Drop-off — that is extra–maybe we are planning on drought
    No Traffic Study
    No LEEDS certification as promised by this commission
    No Interface with the park – existing trees on the site will be decimated
    No Benefit to MLK Jr Park — 2 acres of greenspace are bring removed from play
    No net gain for Library patrons
    No compliance with the state in accepting grant dollars awarded over 20 years ago

    Band-aid this project? They don’t make ’em big enough.

  6. Nora F. says:

    First, I am leery of meetings that go on concerning the Library, Oops, Canopy, to which C. Cooper, Commissioner is not informed and thus absent, and all Winter Park residents should also be suspicious.

    I believe I need more information as to how a most popular wedding venue “…has the potential of being one of the world’s great meccas of learning…” This jibe of two statements just does not jive.

    This “architect’s international fame” is infamous for costing the Winter Park taxpayers ” money for nothing,” so I am not sure how his infamy is going to bring in tourists’ money after they learn for what they are spending it. Furthermore, how many times does the majority of Winter Park citizens have to keep telling the City Government we do not want more tourists and more traffic.

    It looks as if Commissioner Pete Weldon wanted his name in the paper before the vote to make it seem he has done something good for the city. I hope this article boomerangs on him and Weaver gets the votes.

  7. Love the Park says:

    I’ve lived here 45 years and I have never seen the City mount such a deception as this project. Not even the Carlisle was so opaque.

    I now understand why our City “stewards” weren’t content to call it The Winter Park Public (or Free) Library. It’s not a library. It’s a convention/civic center with a book lending operation on the side.

    Of course, the merchants will love it. Many store and restaurant owners I know are taxpaying citizens but many are not. Yet they have a louder voice at City Hall than the residents. The residents have been shut out of the conversation since Ken Bradley was mayor.

    I don’t know what Sarah Sprinkel, Steve Leary and Pete Weldon envision for Winter Park but it certainly isn’t the town’s pristine charm. Leary has expressed concern that we need to keep up with Lake Mary. What kind of thinking is that?

    Sir David”s masterpiece will be quite the coup for the Triumvirate when their names are emblazoned on a bronze plaque for the busloads of international tourists who’ve come to see The Monument.

    • Don't Believe Everything You Read In The Voice says:

      Their plan is to keep up the charade for awhile that it is a library and events center.

      They will soon, if they have not already, begin soliciting proposals from art collectors to move their collection to “The Canopy.”

      The buildings are designed and intended to be an art museum complex.

      Library and events center is just their cover to get it all built with residents’ taxpayer dollars. Then once the ribbon is cut, they will begin plans to build the real library somewhere else in town, and the $40 million MLK Park buildings will be an art museum to house the chosen collection, and draw tourists to Winter Park like the Salvador Dali museum does in St. Petersburg, or as Leary mentioned in his letter to Orange County, “The Guggenheim” in NYC.

      And then the public construction cycle will begin all over again – a new library and a new city hall to add to the new art museum complex (which also will include lots of rooms for events)..

    • Puhlease says:

      Monument?!? Sure. Someone once posted a picture of the Kane’s furniture store in Casselberry (across from the infamous Rachel’s nudy bar). The resemblance to the CONopy design is sadly amusing.

      Maybe all these tourists on architectural pilgrimages can swing by Kanes too!

      I think Todd Weaver should do a retro public service announcement juxtaposing the two buildings. “This is your design”. “This is your design on several hundred thousand knighted dollars”. “Any questions?”

  8. Sue Masselink says:

    As this article points out, the Orange County Tourist Development Tax grants are meant to fund projects that attract more tax dollars mainly by putting more heads in beds. Since Winter Park does not currently have enough beds to make it competitive for TDT Capital Projects grant funds, it would require many more beds (i.e., hotels) to support all those heads!

    In order to receive a rating of “excellent” in Orange County’s TDT Capital Projects grant application evaluation process, applicants must demonstrate that their projects would “Host exceptional traveling visitor counts, need times, multi‐hotel guaranteed room blocks, lengthy stays, high F&B”; and “host many extended stay visitors (TDT driver), drive tax growth by high visitor spending, promote new development (my emphasis added).”

    While I think it would be wonderful if Winter Park could capture some of the TDT Events grant funds to increase tourist traffic for special events that we host, such as the annual arts festivals, do we really want to significantly increase tourist traffic to our city every day of every year in order to make us competitive for the TDT Capital Projects grant funds? With these funds, we could easily go from being the “city of arts and culture, cherishing its traditional scale and charm while building a healthy and sustainable future for all generations,” to the “city of international tourism, cherishing its exceptional traveling visitor counts while building a community catering to generations of tourists.”

    I am quite certain that this is not the scenario that voters had in mind when they voted to fund a new library for their community. It is certainly not something I have wished for. For those who would like Winter Park to become an international tourist destination, please be careful what you wish for!


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