Why No Confidence

In WP’s Largest Public Works Project?

Why No Confidence

Guest Columnist Charley Williams

The planned Canopy project may be the largest public works project ever undertaken by the City of Winter Park. Approved in 2016, the Library, Events Center and Parking Garage referendum garnered a slim majority of 214 votes, out of over 10,618 votes cast.



Campaign Literature in 2015-16 Promised Cost Levels

New Library: $17,435,700
New Events Center: $ 3,004,943
Parking Deck: $ 3,004,943
Shared Costs: $ 8,405,496

(demolition, design/engineering, landscaping, site work)

Library Board to Raise: $ 2,500,000

TOTAL PROJECT COST $ 29,914,311 with a promised 15 percent contingency

Three years later, why does the public continue to be skeptical about the chances for success?

Why is public trust in this project, funded by taxpayer dollars, continuing to falter? The answers to these questions are not difficult. Look at the project track record over the past four years. Promises were made, then discarded. Trust evaporated. The trend line below speaks for itself.

Original Pledges

  • $29.9 million project with a 15 percent contingency
  • 50,000 square foot library
  • LEED-certified building including solar energy capacity
  • Multi-deck parking garage to ensure easy access, safety and security for patrons
  • Footprint that takes no more than 1 percent of MLK Jr Park acreage
  • A site suitable to build upon with no extraordinary contamination or soil stability issues
  • Storm water plan that could be addressed without taking more parkland
  • A transparent process open to public comment, with all commissioners kept in the loop
  • Project focus is a world class library and a community events center
  • Robust community fundraising support assured
  • CRA funds unlikely to be needed and should be reserved for other city priorities, like the purchase of the Post Office property.

The Path Forward

  • Price tag increased to $40+ million and is tilting toward $50 million
              Note: Taxpayer dollars restricted to the original $30 million bond limit
  • Greatly reduced contingency fund resulting from a challenging construction environment
  • Library size reduced to 34,400 square feet with no LEED certification
  • No parking garage, requiring consumption of more park space for parking lots
  • No traffic study of Morse & Harper to address congestion and safety issues
    Note: Plan proposed to model the entire Orange Avenue MLK Park region
  • Continued flooding of Morse and Harper with no approved storm water plan
              Note: Lake Mendsen is currently at capacity, per St Johns River WMD
  • Complex site issues with debris buried to 30-35 feet and muck.
              Note: Building site has been shifted west to avoid muck pockets.
  • Trees removed without public notice or involvement.
              Note: There is a moratorium on future tree removal.
  • Consumption of MLK Park acreage now in excess of 15 percent of park space, and
  • Lake Mendsen could be further expanded by taking 1-2 more park acres.
              Note: There is some effort to dial back the size of the project footprint.
  • Lack of Transparency — the last comprehensive public forum on the project was the April 9, 2018 City Commission Meeting approving Schematic Designs.
  • Tourism as priority pitched to Orange County Tourist Development Council (TDC) — our own “I-Drive.”
  • One commissioner was not informed of TDC meeting and the request for $6 million.
  • Fundraising from the community still not accounted for, though the deadline was April 2019.
  • CRA funds will likely be tapped to bail out this project.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr: still has not been honored as the namesake of this park.

What if This Were Your Own Health?

Citizens have not been presented with a satisfactory explanation for this list of discrepancies. This is the chance for the commission to step forward and demonstrate leadership.

If this project were a medical patient, we could say we have seen the X-Rays and indicators of a potential complication are all there.

If we wait seven more months, until January, when construction pricing comes due, we then face a crisis decision of whether to administer chemo or radiation or both. Why not take preventive measures now? Get a second opinion? If your health was at stake, what would you do?

Maybe change medical providers?

Can We Afford This Project?

For many, the fiduciary handwriting is on the wall: we cannot afford this project.

No wonder the citizenry is concerned.

Cost estimates and overruns will not diminish. Instead, they will likely increase. Change orders will become a major concern. Our Central Florida construction market is robust but stressed, increasing pressure on construction costs. That context has already been established with the I-4 Ultimate, Orlando Airport’s New South Terminal and the building boom.

Commissioners Need the Chance to Talk to One Another

At the June 10 Commission meeting, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper requested a workshop so the Commission as a whole could discuss various budget issues, including the Canopy and the CRA, without having to go through the City Manager. She was dismissed by Mayor Steve Leary, but her suggestion deserves reconsideration.

Recommendation: Give Us the Benefit of Your Shared Vision

Hold a Workshop.

Put the questions on the table and explore some answers together.

Educate a very concerned public.

How Much Can the Camel Carry?

In the case of the Canopy, it is reasonable to say that a $1,000 per square foot public works project is unacceptable. So, what is acceptable? $700 per square foot? $500 per square foot? $350 per square foot? That guide star needs to be established — or at least discussed – and the public needs to hear the discussion.

If we cannot attain that acceptable price per square foot, alternative scenarios need to be explored. When a project moves beyond 60 percent design, the time and money already invested make it increasingly difficult to say “no” or even to change tack.

Think Big: Where is Plan B?

The goal is to maximize all our assets to make this project the best it can be. For this reason, the process deserves heightened public involvement, heightened communication and heightened stewardship by our elected leaders.

Are our taxpayer dollars being wisely spent? If so, show us how.

That’s how public trust can be restored.

  • 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

16 replies
  1. Seidel To Raid CRA says:

    Commissioner Greg Seidel has indicated an eagerness to raid the City’s CRA trust fund, to get the millions needed to complete the project for the greedy developer cartel.

  2. Jackie VanderPol says:

    Great summary of the facts. I hope the officials involved will take an honest, hard look – collaboratively. Thanks Charley.

  3. WP Anon says:

    Charley and many others are so correct, this fiasco has been mismanaged from the political get-go. Scrap the whole thing and have a go at it again.

    The premature destruction of the Rachal Murrah Civic Center leaves us with new options. We now must Replace the Civic Center, with fiscal restraint, and call it what you wish. Then build the new library in a more appropriate location.

    I continue to believe that the library should be relocated to a premiere site, right on Park Avenue.

    Our City Hall is in dire need of replacement so why don’t we use most of the whole block?

    A new Library and City Hall sharing space on Park Avenue and a multi-story public parking building behind.

    The current library property will command a very high price and will help defer costs.

    Bring it to a new vote, with FULL disclosure this time, and let the residents decide.

  4. Devious Steve's Devious Remark says:

    From The Voice video above:

    Leary: “It just sounds so devious…”

    Well, Steve, if the shoe fits….

  5. William Deuchler says:

    Thank you Charley for this fantastic summary of the many reasons the citizens of Winter Park have zero confidence in this project. May I emphasize that the City’s narrative regarding this project has flip-flopped to the point where we are wondering what this is really all about.

    In particular, first, to sell this to the public it was all about the LIBRARY and how we desperately needed a much larger and updated facility. That “mom and apple pie”appeal barely received the voters approval. However when realities began settling in, magically, the size of the library shrank to now, not much larger than the existing facility. Further, even at a reduced size the cost of the facility was no where near the promised cost, but when the City saw the Orange County piggy bank the narrative changed and it was all about the EVENT CENTER.

    One can speculate on any number of conspiracy theories as to what is really going on and why the narrative changes on a self-serving, utilitarian dime; but that is really not productive. What would be productive is to go immediately to a Plan B and scrap the current design and design team and bring in an architect who can produce a design that is aesthetically compatible with the best characteristics of Winter Park and meets the operational objectives of an improved LIBRARY. We don’t need “statement architecture” or a monument to the current administration. We don’t need anything to “put Winter Park on the map”; we are and have been for a long time, “on the map”. May I say we don’t really need another event center. What we do need is to give the citizens what they wanted in the first place, a well functioning LIBRARY that meets current and projected future needs and do it well within the originally proposed budget.

    • Sally Flynn says:

      William Deuchler’s comments are so spot on! We can only hope

      that our commissioners will read and do something to change

      the disastrous project.

  6. Mary R Randall says:

    Excellent & concise summary. In spite of trying to keep abreast of the Canopy happenings, I learned a few new things from this. Thank you,

    Charley & The Voice. We ALL need to be informed. I would also like to
    request an update meeting from the city.

  7. Jim Fitch says:

    Once again, Charlie, you are ON TARGET and CORRECT IN YOUR DIAGNOSIS
    This is an Outrageous BAIT and SWITCH project foisted on the Taxpayers of Winter Park.
    We didn’t need a New Library. Rollins needs to expand the Alfond Inn. When the present parking arrangement for the Alfond Inn, 2 blocks away, is found to be unworkable, Rollins will change their stated position ‘we don’t want to buy the Library’ (Ed Kania, VP of Business, Finance and Treasurer – Old Library Use meeting 6/19/2019) and say we need it …
    I don’t Trust Rollins anymore than i Trust the present Commission.

    My Prediction – IF this Canopy project continues to it’s bitter end – the TOTAL COST WILL BE $60 MILLION. Winter Park services (undergrounding, street repair, preventive maintenance) will be affected for the next several years as Staff borrows from Peter to pay Paul..

  8. Anon WP says:

    What will happen if the expected recession hits, real estate values plummet taking property Tex collections with them? How will we pay for it then?

  9. Cynthia Mackinnon says:

    I understand the mayor plans to run against Emily Bonilla for Orange County Commissioner. Seems as if he would be motivated to improve his reputation for good governance when at least half his present constituents are so critical of his performance. But apparently not.

  10. John Thompson says:

    With the lack of communication from the Mayor and Commissioner Sprinkel, it’s difficult to understand how this project got so out of hand.

    I’m sure the Mayor, Sprinkel and others initially had good intentions, but their present dismissal of different view points is troubling.

    As with the vote for Todd, we need to correct these issues at the ballot box. Hopefully, Sprinkel will be the next to go.

  11. This Community Is Not an ATM says:

    We have other important projects on the near horizon besides the Library/Events center project. We need to reserve funds–both private and public–to make sure those efforts are successful. Many have suggested that purchase and repurposing of the existing downtown post office site is such a priority. CRA funds could be used to make that dream a reality. Current discussions are underway to repurpose the existing library site–a city asset. What about Progress Point–another prime city asset? We have many more project ideas that need financial consideration and support. Our local fundraising capacity has its limitations.I believe that ceiling has been reached. We can’t use the CRA as an ATM to bail out misguided decisions which can’t live up to previously promised budget commitments. Enough.

  12. Selective Amnesia says:

    The library/event center/parking garage is no longer the project for which the citizens of Winter Park voted. Portions of the projects are peeled away and costs rise. Read the literature from the Library Board promising EVERYTHING would be covered by the $30 m bond…everything (stormwater, landscape, furniture, construction, fees). Now we are dipping into other silos of revenue, grabbing dollars from foundations and grants and delaying other city projects to feed this ever expanding budget. This is not what the citizens voted for.


    Bonds, Costs and Taxes for a New Library and Events Center Explained

  13. Peter Gottfried says:

    Great piece of work, Charlie. This a total bait and switch, with Mayor Leary’s boondoggle aptly remembered in Central Florida as Leary’s Folly.
    And let’s give credit to the researcher who helped Charlie pull all this great information together. What a team.


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