Guest Columnist Peter Knowles Gottfried
Have you ever gone to a car dealership to investigate an incredibly good deal only to realize the “deal” really is too good to be true? Or perhaps you were enticed by an ad for a condo with water view only to find that “water” was a retention pond. This is how folks who voted for the proposed “Library-Event Center” must be feeling.
We were promised a beautiful 50,000 square foot Library and new Event Center at the corner of Harper Avenue and Morse Boulevard overlooking Lake Mendsen. We also voted for a parking structure that would adequately service both the new library and the event center. And finally, City literature told us, “The new library, event center and garage footprint will require less than 1percent of additional open space” within Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.
As it develops, however, the situation becomes more and more like being the customer at the car dealership anticipating a shiny new Highlander and being offered a used Yaris instead.
The 50,000 Square Foot Promise.
Let’s begin with the library campaign to win voter approval for a $30 million bond issue for the demolition of the existing Civic Center and the construction of the new library-event center and parking structure. Just about every piece of literature sent to voters spoke of the need for more library space, overcrowding in the youth section and insufficient computer lab space.
One election mailer asked, “What do you do when Winter Park’s Library … has to remove children’s books, even favorites, every time a new book arrives? …doesn’t have enough computers or digital labs? …can’t accommodate emergency rescue equipment above the first floor? …has no space for after-school tutoring rooms?”
Another mailer claimed, “Our children continue to lose out on learning opportunities and materials because of inadequate space.”
Grandparents, seniors, and adults will get “fully equipped technology labs with classes for seniors, students and entrepreneurs.” Another mailer promised, “Expanded and climate-controlled history center with exhibit space, genealogy lab and digitization to preserve our shared history.”
It is no wonder that the Library Board, the Commission and Citizens were excited about a new 50,000 square foot library. A letter from the then President of the Winter Park Library Board of Trustees to voters stated that the library would provide early childhood literacy areas, tutoring rooms, digital media labs, make the library safer, and provide for a new parking facility.
Where Did We Get 50,000 Sq.Ft?
Where did the “50,000-square-foot” number for the library appear? The Library Task Force, a committee authorized by the City Commission to come up with recommendations for the new library, stated in their final report that the estimated size of the library was 50,000 square feet, with the existing library at 33,742 square feet. We were getting an additional 16,206 square feet, a significant increase by any measure.
Following that, an email blast from the “yes for winter park library” Political Action Committee (PAC) clearly stated the proposed library was to be 50,000 square feet. That same email stated there would also be a one-story, 220-space parking deck.
The Winter Park Library staff sent an email to “Friends, Neighbors and Patrons” stating that the library will be 50,000 square feet and include a one-story parking deck for 220 cars. And finally, the City issued a Request for Qualifications for Library Design Consultant Services which clearly stated that the project will include “a new 240-space (sic) parking garage, a new 50,000 square foot library . . . .”
Honey, They Shrunk the Library
It must be a disappointment to the Library friends, neighbors and patrons to find that the new library will be barely larger than the existing library. Depending on whose numbers you use, we may be getting 867 or 991 additional square feet for a new library that everyone thought would provide significantly more space. The architect says the new library will be 34,661 square feet. Pizutti, the City’s program manager, says 34,785 square feet.
Parking Structure Promise
The reference to a parking structure is in the ballot language. The ballot clearly stated that $30 million in general obligation bonds were to be issued for the “purpose of financing the Winter Park Library and Event Center to include library facilities, civic meeting and gathering facilities and related parking structure, and improvements….” [emphasis added]
The City website shows the new plans for a library-event center with surface lots spread throughout MLK Park, including parking spaces at the community playground off Denning Drive.
Certificate Concerning Official Statement
On June 1, 2017 Mayor Steve Leary, City Manager Randy Knight and Finance Director Wes Hamil signed the Certificate Concerning Official Statement attesting to the truthfulness of statements made in the May 8, 2017 Bond Resolution.
The execution and delivery of this Official Statement has been duly authorized and approved by the City. At the time of delivery of the Bonds, the City will furnish a certificate to the effect that nothing has come to its attention which would lead to believe that the Official Statement as of its date and as of delivery of the Bonds, contains an untrue statement of a material fact or omits to state a material fact which should be included herein for the purpose for which the Official Statement is intended to be used, or which is necessary to make the statements contained herein, in light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading.”
Wikipedia defines parking structure as, “A parking garage also called a multistory, parking structure, parking ramp, parking building, parking deck or indoor parking, a building designed for car parking . . . .”
Now the Commission has decided that a series of surface lots will take the place of the parking structure called for on the ballot. How might the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board regard some of these directives by the Commission regarding the new Library and Event Center?
Footprint-Will-Use-Less-Than-1-Percent-of Park-Land Promise
One of the documents circulated by the City and the Winter Park Library included a page that stated, “The total area of the new library, civic center, and garage “footprint” will require less than 1 percent of additional open space above the area where the existing parking lot and Civic Center now exist.”
A review of the site plan for the new library-event center and parking shows considerably more space taken than the 1 percent promised. In fact, the new facility is approximately 15 percent of the total MLK Park’s 26.8 acres, or about 8 percent of the total park in excess of the footprint of the existing Civic Center. Eight percent is significantly more green space lost than the 1 percent promised.
Shortly after voters approved the library/event center in the spring of 2016, a lawsuit was filed challenging the proposed location at MLK Park. No location had been specified in the ballot language.
The Judge in that case ruled that the ancillary documents provided prior to the election – mailers from the Library PAC, emails from the City, Library web pages and presentations by various committees — would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the library was to be built at MLK Park.
The same reasoning can be applied now. The voting public can reasonably conclude the City will build a 50,000 square foot library and event center, and an associated parking structure.
Winter Park voters have the right to question these un-kept promises and to decide if they are happy with the outcome. You can let your elected representatives know they might have some explaining to do by writing them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Knowles Gottfried is an environmental scientist who drew up one of the first plans for Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in 1985. He was a Winter Park Commissioner 1986 to 1996, and then served on the Planning & Zoning Commission from 2011 to 2017.