Why Should We Build a Library-Event Center in MLK Park?

An Insider’s View

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

Why Should We Build a Library-Event Center in MLK Park?

Guest Columnist – Nancy Miles

nancy miles SMALLFriends of mine are walking door to door with a petition they would like you to sign. That petition would prevent the City from building a library in Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.

I was approached by one such friend, who was unaware that I was involved in the long and thorough process that resulted in the Library Task Force report to the City Commission with a unanimous recommendation for a new library at MLK Park.

Reaching the Conclusion – We Need a New Library

The Library Task Force represented a wide range of constituents and viewpoints. We started out with very different ideas about whether we even needed a new library. Many thought the existing library could be rebuilt.

I was in the “didn’t-need-too-much-convincing-to-rebuild” camp early, because I have spent time in our library and have seen how cramped and inflexible the building has become. Anyone who has tried to find a quiet work spot knows what I mean.

Once we saw solid reasons why a retrofit would not work, we all had different ideas about where a new library should be sited.

Long Search for a New Home

When we got to the “find-the-best-location” stage, we again had widely differing preferences. My choices, City Hall or the Post Office, turned out to not be best. The City Hall site could work if the whole block was available, but it is not. The US Postal Service’s demand for a new distribution center made that choice too expensive. The other sites we looked at were either not available or were unworkable.

I was part of the Task Force sub-group that studied the Civic Center site. When we looked at adding a library there, we saw a great opportunity.

Combined Facility = Smaller Footprint

Our original mission had not included looking at a rebuild of the Civic Center, but those of us on the Civic Center sub-group saw a building in need of rehab. When the Commissioners sent us back to look at combining the library with the Civic Center, it began to make a lot of sense.

Combining the library and event center would result in a smaller footprint than a library added to the Civic Center. The new dual-purpose building would be an efficient and beautiful use of that corner of the park. The result would be a beautiful, exciting space in our city.

After many months of study and discussion, the Task Force, as a whole, was able to take a unanimous proposal to the Commission for a combined library and events center in MLK Park.

The voters agreed and passed the referendum.

. . . and the Future of the Existing Library?

Now it is time to choose the best design for our library and event space. We also need to talk about what to do with the existing library. I hope we keep it for future civic use, but that will be a long discussion – a discussion in which I hope my politically active friends will be very involved.

Bring me that petition and I will sign it!

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15 replies
  1. John Aquino says:

    Yes, the voters agreed and passed the referendum, barely. The pamphlets passed out in favor of the new library showed a beautiful design, unfortunately it was an artist rendering, This whole project seems to have the potential for cost overruns. I believe, if those against the project would have chosen the slogan to “save the park” and pointed out there was no real architecture plans for the 30 million, the referendum would have failed.

    Reply
    • Mary Gail Coffee, Winter Park Public Library says:

      The $30 million included a 15% contingency to protect against cost overruns and all of the architects interviewed by the City were made well aware of the hard limits on costs.

      Reply
    • Randy Vance says:

      I was mislead by the artist’s rendering. I thought they already had a blueprint and this was its rendering.

      Reply
  2. Kathryn Grammer says:

    I started out in favor of a library at MLK but I also was led to believe until late in the “process” that this would spare us the need for a parking garage. Then it changed into a library/event center and we were shown pictures of state-of-the-art complexes that seem completely out of character for Winter Park.
    My hometown of Wellesley, MA, has a new “Free Library” that gets high praise inside and outside of the community. The new library replaced a library that had won architectural awards but had outgrown its usefulness. The new library doesn’t have all the add-ons that we have found ourselves with in Winter Park. It has quiet spaces and computer rooms, but it doesn’t have an “event center”. It serves its purpose just fine. (I would recommend Googling it. Wellesley is a lot like Winter Park and over the past 60 years has kept a fairly steady population of about 28,000).
    I can certainly understand the pro-park enthusiasm for the library. But I think something on a smaller scale without an attached event center would serve Winter Park without diminishing its special quality of life. I also believe that the proposed complex with skyrocket well beyond $30,000,000, if not in building costs then certainly in operating costs.

    Reply
  3. Beth Hall says:

    How I wish this were not such a divisive issue. Unfortunately, a readily available path to a far less divided populace was “the road not taken.” When the city commission made the deliberate decision NOT to specify a LOCATION in the language of the referendum, Pandora’s box was opened.

    Omission of the designated location from the referendum language by our city commission was intentional and by design. Commissioner Cooper moved to include the location in the ordinance and referendum last November. She got no support.

    Discussions at a recent public meeting between Seidel, Cooper and Weldon also confirmed that the omission of the location from referendum language was purposeful.

    The rationale for the excluding the MLK Park location from the ballot language was that it was feared that should the MLK Park location prove unsuitable/unviable for any reason, the bond referendum issue would again have to be brought before the voters. (The same thing was done when the referendum for the new public safety building bond referendum was passed. The Canton Avenue location was not specified in case that location was ultimately not viable.)

    This reasoning is not nefarious, but as we are now learning it can have a downside. The downside is that there is no way to establish with certainty that voters actually knew what a vote “For” would mean.

    The careful crafting of a ballot measure worded to exclude the proposed location in this case may prove a double edged sword. On the one hand, if the MLK Park site is found not suitable for any reason, the money to fund the new library/events center somewhere else can still be raised. Conversely, if 2,011 WP voters who were registered as of the date of the March election sign the petition, then building in MLK Park will be disallowed.

    Nancy Miles’ thoughtful summation is sincere, articulate and informative. But when she says “the voters agreed” with task force thinking, this is not necessarily so since the referendum was SILENT as to location.

    In point of fact, I know people who voted in favor of the bond issue without realizing that MLK Park was the intended site of the new library and events center. Some of these same “For” voters have now signed the petition being circulated to prevent building in the park even while they support a new library/events center elsewhere.

    When $30 million (plus an additional $13 million in debt service) is at stake, should a location be specified in the ballot language put before voters? Do clarity and specificity matter? Or, is the end goal so desirable and beneficial that the location is secondary? Will the petition get the needed signatures? If so, will the city accept the petition without a legal fight? Will WP get a new library/events center? If so, where will it be?

    Stay tuned.

    Reply
  4. Beth Hall says:

    I should clarify…

    If the requisite 2,011 signatures are gathered by petitioners it does not necessarily follow that building in MLK Park “will be disallowed.” Rather, the ordinance promulgated by the petitioners will either be adopted by the city commission or it will be put on a ballot to go before WP voters in the future.

    Reply
    • Laurel says:

      I’m afraid you are incorrect on one major point.

      Even if this group should collect the required signatures, the petition will not go to the Commissioners for an ordinance/vote.

      As reported in the Winter Park Observer, the City has already deemed the petition invalid thus it would be incumbent upon these people to sue the City in a legal battle.

      Reply
      • Beth Hall says:

        Laurel,

        If the petitioners get the requisite number of signatures the commission may indeed elect to simply adopt the ordinance. That is one option. Or they can put it on a future ballot for the city voters to vote up or down.

        Per the commission’s recent vote (5/23) and per the city’s e-mail to citizens dated 5-26-16, the city is now taking the matter to court.
        Check your in box for the 5/26/16 e-mail from City of Winter Park referencing the Bond Validation Process.

        It was a calculated risk, but by electing NOT to specify the location of the library in the March ballot language, the commission created some vulnerabilities.

        Reply
    • Mary Gail Coffee, Winter Park Public Library says:

      Except the petition was rejected by the City Clerk on the advice of the City attorney after careful review of the petition language and the City charter. It has been clearly determined to be an untimely and ultimately invalid process that can only lead to litigation at additional cost to the taxpayers.

      Reply
  5. Tasked says:

    Thanks to the author. This is the first time I have seen a Library Task Force member publicly confess a pre-determined bias in favor of building a new library. It’s a great act of courage really. And it’s unlikely to be duplicated. Since, other than herself and perhaps one or two other members, the Library Task Force was stacked with those who stand to make a profit from the development of the MLK site and ancillary services and investments (or those of their clients and employers).

    A majority of Winter Park residents who don’t normally use the library, and who do not make a living off Winter Park real estate business, should form their own “Task Force” to determine whether or not a new library is “needed.” Any guess on what the conclusions of that report might be?

    Part of the reason why the “Not in MLK Park” petition drive is going so well is that the majority of Winter Park residents have had enough with the well connected few in this town who want everyone else to sing to their tune, and are willing to do so with lies, half-truths, and withheld information.

    It’s not our job to find you a “quiet nook.” And it’s unlikely you’ll find one in a place that proposes to share a wall with a venue that hosts rock bands, bachelor parties, and revivals.

    Reply
  6. Laurel says:

    I think citizens voted “No” for a variety of reasons, many likely due to the tax issue and not the location.

    It is presumptuous to say that the “No” votes were all for the same reason. I have neighbors who care little about where it will be built only that they did not wish to see their taxes increase.

    Further, I would challenge those not in favor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. location to suggest an alternative.

    But a caveat: they must suggest an alternative that shall accommodate the library AND event center, as the two must be built together per the bond, AND it must be within the downtown Winter Park area AND the City must have means or opportunity to acquire the property.

    They cannot do this. That is why you see no alternative suggestion from their group to end this “divisiveness.”Very shameful.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous says:

    The people of Winter Park are generous, considerate of neighbors, and thoughtful. When they heard of the need for a new library, the majority agreed. The $43 M did not stop their forward look for the community. When they ask location and could not get a straight answer, they felt betrayed. A government worthy of serving good citizens would be more truthful to the people they serve. This location needs to be more open and re-evaluated.

    Donald Thompson
    macdonnall@aol.com

    Reply
  8. Lisa Coney says:

    I felt well informed all throughout the campaign process – by both the “for” and “against” camps. I continue to be surprised that anyone was not clear on all points. I knew all along that the WPPL was intended to include the events center and parking and that it was planned for MLK park. I heard the opinions, read the materials, questioned experts, attended meetings and made the decision that I support the WPPL referendum. I think it will be a benefit to the library, the park and our community. I believe the new structure will be better planned and, even with a small increase in foot print, will prove to be a greener and more visually appealing structure than what we have there now.
    There are solid reasons for having a clear-single focus referendum and that is what the city attorney recommended. Clearly never an intention to mislead, simply to follow legal direction and common standards.
    And, the referendum passed. It passed by far more than our new commissioner and no one is questioning the legitimacy of his victory. It passed. It is time for us to come together as a community to create the best use of the space for us and for the future.
    This petition appears to be little more than sour grapes; divisive and without real purpose.
    I agree wholeheartedly with Nancy Miles – – – when the petition is circulating addressing the use of the current library building, I am very interested in signing. That is a separate issue for another time. It reinforces the need to have commissioners that share your views but it has no bearing on the referendum and the amazing opportunity we have.
    I wholly support WPPL and look forward to the future.

    Reply
  9. Barbara DeVane says:

    A question we should be asking ourselves is what do we want to see replace the USPS at the new corner of Central Park. Let’s not dismiss this location as the site for our new library because a new distribution center is expensive. In ten years no one will remember the cost. We will regret the commercial buildings and condos that we allowed to be built because of our shortsightedness. I’d rather see us sell the old library site for the funds to buy this missing piece of our Central Park. A new state of the art library situated in our Central Park says a lot about our community and what is important to us! Let’s do it.

    Reply
    • Roulette says:

      A majority of the Commissioners don’t want to buy the Post Office quite yet. They are waiting until casino gambling is allowed throughout Florida so they can perhaps build a 40 story Trump Winter Park International Hotel and Casino on the Post Office property.

      Just kidding of course (I think). But don’t laugh too hard. Trump actually did recently purchase the old Post Office down the street from the White House in Washington D.C. and is turning it into a hotel which is scheduled to open later this year.

      The Commissioners’ buddies on Park Avenue want the Post Office site developed in a manner that draws more heavy drinkers and shopaholics to Park Avenue who will buy lots of of shiny and other high end retail products. Kids checking out “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” at the library won’t increase Park Avenue rents, so the site has been disqualified from further consideration as a library by our ruling cabal.

      Reply

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