The Canopy – Questions Remain

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

The Canopy – Questions Remain

Guest Columnist Marty Sullivan

The first anniversary of the conditional use approval of the Canopy project is coming up September 24, and shortly thereafter the Commission should receive the construction drawings, from which the City can finally calculate the “not-to-exceed” cost of the project.  Despite anticipation of these long-sought answers, questions remain.

The proposed Canopy project is a big deal for our City. Based on the history of our current library, we may have this public building for the next 40 years.

What Questions?

We have to ask: Is the design compatible with our City?  Is the library satisfactory in form and function to serve Winter Park citizens? Will the adjoining events center serve Winter Park’s needs for community events? Will the evolving cost fit within our budget? Will long-term maintenance and operation costs be acceptable? Will it be a desirable addition to Martin Luther King, Jr. recreational park? 

Let Your City Officials Hear From You

Your City leaders need to hear from you. Let your Commissioners know your thoughts on the proposed library and events center. There is no time to waste. Act now.

You can research the proposed Canopy library and events center on the City web site, https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/city-info/winter-park-canopy/

Narrow Margin Foretold Present Dilemma

In March 2016, we voted on a bond referendum for a new library. I expected a favorable landslide vote, because who isn’t in favor of a new library? The bond passed, despite controversy over vague plans and finalization of the building site. The final breakdown was 51 percent for and 49 percent against. The referendum passed by a margin of just 214 votes, foreshadowing the controversy that was sure to follow.

Initial Concept is Substantially Changed

Are the changes in building sizes from the initial concepts acceptable? The referendum language specified, “For the purpose of building the Winter Park Library and Events Center, to include library facilities, civic meeting and gathering facilities and related parking structure . . . .”

Voters were told there would be a 50,000-square-foot (sf) library, an 8,505 sf civic center and a 200-space parking garage (“Community Engagement Workshops,” ACi Architects, 10/26/2015).  

Now, the plans are for a 34,400 sf library and a 13,564 sf events center. The ‘associated parking structure’ has been replaced by surface parking (City Commission conditional use approval, 9/24/2018). The Canopy library is only 400 sf larger than the current library facility. Library staff cites efficient use of space, which compensates for the reduction in size, but is this library adequate for our citizens’ needs?

MLK Park Loses Trees and Green Space

Are changes to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park appropriate? The proposed structure will reduce the MLK park area by an estimated two acres, and the storm water treatment area must be expanded, although no specifications had been developed as of May 2019 (LandDesign engineers).

What Effect Will Tourism Dollars Have?

The City secured a $6 Million Tourist Development Tax (TDT) grant in return for making the Canopy Events Center available for international tourism. At the City’s presentation to the TDT grant board, City Manager Randy Knight was asked about the extent of Winter Park citizens’ use of the event center facility.  He responded that he thought Winter Park residents might use the facility during the week, but that the event center would be available on weekends for tourism activities.  Winter Park voters approved the bond referendum based on an event center with the purpose of “civic meeting and gathering facilities.” However, now the intended purpose seems to be an international tourism destination. (Presentation before Tourist Tax Grant Board 3/15/2019). 

No Hard Numbers, So Far

Cost estimates have been a moving target. To date, the City has provided only artistic renderings, and we are depending on bids based on construction drawings to derive hard costs.  The City’s official position on cost estimate is $40.5 million, coming from $28.7 Million in bonds, $6 Million TDT grant and $5.4 Million in private donations. The estimated total budget with contingencies is $43 Million.

How many private dollars should our community contribute to this one project? Are we draining resources away from other endeavors? We have other important projects on the horizon, many of which may require private sector support, such as plans for the post office site, new parks, city hall renovations and repurposing the old library site.

How high is too high?

What final figure will cause our City leaders to pause and rethink this project? Fifty Million? We’ve heard $55 Million. Commissioners need to tell us now what they consider an acceptable figure to move ahead with the Canopy.

  • 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. WP Anon says:

    This writer continues to be of the belief that the Library should be incorporated in the City Hall renovation, where it belongs.
    Further, architectural design should remain Winter Park consistent, that is to say similar to the Canton Road Emergency Services building.

    Reply
  2. Laura Laboda says:

    I feel the canopy project has been a bait and switch operation from the beginning. Did we really need a library on the same campus as the civic center? The civic center was beautifully nestled into the tree canopy and focused on the beautiful surrounding Florida environment. Will the new center make nature’s beauty its primary focus or is it an edifice that showcases the talent of a big name architect? The sound of chain saws desecrating heirloom oaks has certainly diminished my confidence in the project.
    I voted against the project largely because too many details were nebulous or unavailable. I am in favor of upgrading our public spaces, but not at the expense of fiscal responsibility. We need to maintain public safety, roads, and infrastructure. Without rambling, I present an analogy. If I agreed to help a relative finance a car, and they purchased a Lamborghini, how confident in their judgment would I be?

    Reply
  3. The Memo says:

    For those who didn’t get the memo, The Canopy is a contemporary art museum, temporarily masquerading as a library and events center.

    It’s right out of the playbook of Orlando Museum of Art (OMA).

    OMA had 50,000 square feet prior to its expansion on 1997.

    https://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/stories/1997/06/09/focus1.html

    “Coincidentally” 50,000 square feet is the size of The Canopy.

    If it wasn’t obvious when Winter Park got an international contemporary art museum architect to design it, it should be obvious by now.

    “Tourist attractions” are not events centers. Contemporary art museums are. Orange County wouldn’t give $6 million of tourist money to an “events center.”

    If that’s not enough, look at the drawings of The Canopy. Does it look like a library? The most recent drawings look nothing like a library is supposed to look.

    But it does look exactly like one would expect a contemporary art museum to look.

    Canopy promoters have used numerous bait and switch tactics on the residents during their push to built it. So it should come as no surprise that what they are building has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of what they told residents it would be used for.

    Reply
    • BJ says:

      I totally agree with you Ruth. Maybe we need to vote on this project again, knowing what has happened and changed since it was first proposed.

      Reply
    • Marty Sullivan says:

      Terrific article on their new library. We could learn something from them, such as library’s purpose: “this is a “hub of Winston-Salem in touch with the people”

      Reply
  4. Maureen Hillman says:

    Marty Sullivan, I agree completely with your view. This is not good for Winter Park. Little regard for current residents. We do not want to be a tourism center. The environment if Winter Park is changing due to business concerns. We were a charming, family centered community. This is why we choose to live here. When “some one” wanted to buy the current library, we should have said No!! Bait and switch should have halted any construction.
    It seems the same 5 people run Winter Park Ando are only concerned with profits. I’m disgusted with our City leaders.

    Reply
  5. Sally Flynn says:

    Thanks, Marty for a very informative article on the Canopy project. I would also like to ask the Commissioners, how high is too high??? For me, it is the $30 M bond that the citizens approved.

    Reply
  6. Jack says:

    I’ve asked this question before, but it might be appropriate to ask again once the “real” costs for the Canopy are determined.

    How big a premium are we paying, both in facility scope and cost, for the unique Canopy design?

    A reasonable comparison would be the recently completed Crosby Center, which is about the same size structure and includes a parking parking garage similar to the one in the original library concept.

    The Crosby center is a private venture so costs aren’t public, but the numbers in the press prior to start of construction were considerably below all estimates for the Canopy. Perhaps Advent Health would be willing to share their actual costs to allow us to benchmark the “real” Canopy costs against a similar project located in Winter Park.

    For the City to move forward on this project without a benchmark comparison would be financial malpractice. A decision based on the sole determination that the project fits within the available funds is irresponsible.

    Reply
  7. Anon says:

    I would point out that a majority of ballots cast did not vote for the bond issue. There were 6% no votes or under/over votes. Since the Presidential preference was on the same ballot, so the 6% on the bond vote was not mismarked ballots but those who chose to abstain. Thus the majority of ballots cast were not in favor of this bond. Per the City Manager and City Attorney Florida courts exclude non votes from the total. So technically a majority voted the bond yes; the reality is a majority of cast ballots did not. The cost and scope of this project requires a majority of citizens to be behind it to succeed. Unfortunately our elected representatives do not understand this or, worse, do not care. The City Charter should be amended to allow for abstaining on tax issues with abstaining votes counting in the denominator.

    Reply
    • The Night Before Canopy says:

      ‘Twas the Night Before Canopy

      When all through City Hall

      Not a Creature was stirring

      Not even a termite.

      Commissioners were nestled

      All snug in their beds

      As visions of names on a cornerstone

      Danced through their heads.

      The residents were fretting

      Since this was their last chance

      To halt the project

      So they could go out and dance.

      They went to the Art Museum

      Then back to MLK Park

      And saw what they’d missed

      While tossed about in their ark.

      They went down to the Elections Office

      But no one was there

      When they recited their anecdote,

      “Hey you in there, you miscounted our votes!”

      So they went to The Voice,

      Their old trusted friend,

      For one more try

      Before it was the end.

      Then they had an idea.

      It had worked before —

      A yard sign or two

      Might stop The Canopy War.

      First one went up,

      And then another.

      Soon there were so many, as if

      “No Canopy” was their mother.

      The Commissioners saw them

      And looked on with awe.

      A sea of yard signs — so many,

      More than the eye could draw.

      When the gavel hit the Dais

      The termites did scatter.

      The mayor looked up

      To see what was the matter.

      The residents poured in,

      First two or three,

      Then twenty, then fifty

      Three hundred it would be.

      Looking out his window

      To the sidewalk below —

      So many residents lined up to get in.

      The mayor whispered, “Oh No.”

      With a bang of his gavel

      He ordered the Clerk

      To read the Canopy roll call

      Before they could call him “a jerk.”

      Seidel votes “No”

      She said with relief,

      As more residents jammed in

      To vent their beef.

      Sprinkel votes “No”

      Were her next words

      As the residents outside

      Roared like a herd.

      Cooper votes “No”

      She said with delight,

      As the residents cheered

      All into the night.

      This little ditty

      A reminder to all

      That it’s not over

      Till the last vote they call.

      Reply
  8. Blinded by the Blight says:

    First, let us remember this is our community library. We voted to accept a contract with the city. That contract voted on in March 2016 established a budget of $30 million. It passed by just 214 votes (5416 to 5202) signaling skepticism among many citizens. Going forward, many of us hoped that core competencies would guide the project–transparency, monthly updates, solicitation of citizen feedback. Instead, there has been a cone of silence masquerading as project integrity. What’s worse, our original budgetary contract has evaporated. A $40 million project represents a 30% increase. A $45 million pricetag is a 50% increase. Should we be asked to accept a $48 million project, we would be signing off on a whopping 60% increase. I ask you: where do you draw the line? Furthermore, why would any Winter Park elected official–seeking higher office–want to add this project albatross to his/her resume? Maybe to underscore: “I know about Do-Overs.”

    Reply
  9. Jim Fitch says:

    A well thought out and considered article, Marty.
    It does look more like an Art Venue than a Library.
    This will be used every day, not just weekends.
    The Fiscal Folly this represents is not over yet…
    Has anyone heard of CHANGE ORDERS?
    A final cost estimate by the Architect, the Designers or City Hall is not binding.
    The dirt on this site is like a milkshake and not stable. Putting a proper foundation under this project will be costly.
    City Services will be impacted as the City scrambles to find money to pay for this questionable project.
    I continue to be upset about the rapidity which Mayor Leary and City Manager Knight demolished the Murrah Civic Center and the surrounding Legacy Oak trees…

    Reply

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