The $6 million grant Winter Park seeks from Orange County could turn the events center that will replace the Rachel Murrah Civic Center into an international tourist destination.
On Tuesday, April 23, the City will learn the fate of its request for a $6 million Tourist Development Tax – Advisory Review Committee (TDT-ARC) grant. The money will come from the 6 percent tax levied on every overnight hotel or motel guest in Orange County. If the City receives the grant, it will use the money to close part of the funding gap in the Canopy project. Only the events center part of the project and the raked auditorium in the library may receive the funds. None of the other elements of the Winter Park Public Library are eligible to participate in the grant.
Tourism = Big $$$
Tourism is booming, leaving Orange County sitting atop a big pile of cash. Florida Statute 125.0104 mandates the 6 percent tax levied on every overnight Orange County hospitality guest be reinvested in the tourism industry. Originally, the money was intended for large projects, like expanding the I-drive convention center and sports stadiums.
In November 2016, the Orange County Commission amended the Tourist Development Plan to authorize using excess TDT funds for capital projects recommended by the ARC. The statute is still restrictive — for example, at least 40 percent of all revenues must be spent on advertising tourism — but non-profit attractions such as auditoriums, museums, performance venues and aquariums may now be funded with these dollars.
Criteria for TDT-ARC Grants
Capital projects recommended by ARC need not be “tourist-dense,” like the massive convention center or sports stadiums, but they must meet three criteria in the amended ordinance.
- The project must drive tourism and work with the tourism industry.
- The project must demonstrate sound financial planning and show a proven record to deliver the capital project on time.
- The project will provide economic benefit to all of Orange County.
The ARC’s latest recommendations include the Orlando Science Center, The Orlando Philharmonic, the Holocaust Museum, the Orlando History Center and the Winter Park Canopy project. All except the Winter Park project are non-profits that are intended to benefit Orange County as a whole.
Community to Commercial . . . the Evolution
The Canopy project, as approved by voters in 2016, would have been ineligible for these tourist tax dollars. Promotional material assured voters that the majority of the project square footage and funding would go to build the library. The events center was mentioned as a smaller replacement for the existing Rachel Murrah Civic Center, and thus could not have been promoted as tourist draw. Literature the voters saw prior to voting for the library/events center referendum focused on enriching the Winter Park community by catering to our children and seniors and improving our park space and our quality of life.
Adjaye Design = Big $$$
The expense of building the Adjaye design, however, presented a quandary for city leaders. They found themselves in the position of having to choose which elements of the project they could build, since the $30 million from the bond issue fell short of covering cost estimates, which are around $40 million and climbing.
First the promised parking deck was cast aside. The library shrank by almost 14,000 square feet. While the 2016 library promotional material stated it was “bursting at the seams,” the library now seems content with the addition of a mere 2,000 square feet.
Parts of the project once thought essential in early discussions became add alternates (“add-alts”) that could be included only if the City could secure additional funding. The porte-cochere over the entrance, thought to be a necessity given our weather, became a million-dollar-plus add-alt. Then the much touted roof-top venue fell into the add-alt column, soon to be joined by the outdoor amphitheater and the raked seating in the library auditorium.
What was left in the budget besides the shrunken library?
The project now has no parking structure and an expanded event center. Pre-bond referendum material cited an 8,000 square foot replacement for the Rachel Murrah Center. The Adjaye-designed event center is over 13,000 square feet.
Revenue Source Prevails Over Library Services?
The expanded event center will bring in revenue for the city. The various venues can be rented out for top dollar, and local businesses can expect to benefit from the increased traffic at the event center. While libraries provide public services and cost money to run, the event center will provide a revenue stream and benefit those wealthy enough to rent a venue.
Will the Grant Fix the Money Problems?
If the Orange County Board of Commissioners approves the $6 million grant, the funds will not arrive in Winter Park until well after the project is scheduled to be completed. The first payment of $3 million dollars is due from the County in 2022, with a second allotment in 2024. The projected completion date for the Canopy is Spring, 2021.