Bank of the Ozarks could sell land, move to Ravaudage

The 2-acre site on Orange Avenue would expand Seven Oaks Park as private land trust offers $500,000 to help with purchase

By Beth Kassab

For Winter Park Commissioner Marty Sullivan and others who advocate expanding the city’s greenspaces, the nearly 2-acre vacant lot  owned by the Bank of the Ozarks at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive could make or break a long-range vision for connecting the city’s park spaces.

If the city buys the land, a triangle-shaped parcel bordered by Seven Oaks Park on the west and Winter Park Tennis Center and Azalea Lane Playground on the east, a much larger plan to connect to Mead Gardens and reshape that stretch of Orange Avenue takes shape, Sullivan said.

“We have one shot at securing two acres of greenspace, which has tremendous value to the citizens and, studies show, tends to increase the value of surrounding properties,” Sullivan said. “The alternative is a three-story commercial building that would also hinder future transportation improvements on Orange Avenue … Having this greenspace … — this will be in the best interest of the citizens of Winter Park and that’s who I’m rooting for.”

But a deal hasn’t been easy. And is still uncertain.

The Bank of the Ozarks, which purchased the land from another bank in 2018 for $4.3 million and planned to build up to a three-story 80,000-square-foot branch office there, rebuffed an earlier offer of $6 million from the city.

Recently, though, the Arkansas-based bank, which operates 240 offices in eight states, signaled it may be willing to sell.

An alternate site for the bank at Ravaudage, the mixed-use development by Dan Bellows at the corner of Lee Road and U.S. 17-92, appears to be the game changer.

A donation of about $500,000 by the trustees of the nonprofit Winter Park Land Trust could also make a difference as city commissioners work to determine how they can pay for a number of projects that, so far, aren’t included in the budget. The contribution signifies how important the Land Trust believes the property is for the city’s future, said Steve Goldman, a local philanthropist and chairman of the Winter Park Land Trust board of trustees, who also supports the Winter Park Voice.

The Ravaudage land is in play, according to a city of Winter Park spokeswoman, who noted the “city, Ozarks and Ravaudage would all have to come to an agreement to make this work.”

A counteroffer from the bank also asked the city to waive all transportation impact fees at the new site, a value of about $267,000, and to waive about $60,000 in title fees and doc stamps on top of the $6 million sales price, according to an outline provided by the city.

The negotiations come as the City Commission is attempting to balance next year’s budget. The Ozarks acquisition, plus an estimated $2 million worth of improvements to the property, represents $8 million on a list of 20 projects totaling $18 million that the city doesn’t have budgeted over the next five years.

“How do we pay for it? That’s what it comes down to,” said Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio.

Commissioner Todd Weaver said he supports the purchase and using the city’s rainy day fund or reserves for a portion of the cost because of the benefits the land would provide not only in terms of new greenspace, but also underground stormwater retention and the flexibility it would bring for road and rail line improvements along Orange Avenue.

“It’s just the right thing to do because we end up paying it on back end [for stormwater runoff] by remediating nutrient loads in our lakes, because that is where it will all end up,” he said.

Mayor Phil Anderson, who expects the matter to come before the commission in September, said he did not want to comment on whether he supported the purchase until then.

An updated budget document noted timing “is an issue,” because the potential closing date on the bank property is just four months away in December. The document noted the sale of the property could be funded by borrowing from the city’s reserve fund, issuing a bond or financing the acquisition through the sale of other city property.

At a recent meeting, City Manger Randy Knight noted that the old library as well as a portion of the tree farm could be sold to raise dollars for other projects.

Commissioner Kris Cruzada said he is open to the idea of selling the old library if it makes financial sense and leads to the acquisition of another valuable public asset.

“It’s a tradeoff,” he said. “The useful life of the [old library] building may have fulfilled its purpose and we’re trying to build a much more robust park at the Orange Avenue Overlay area.”

But Weaver said he did not support putting the old library up for sale because the city has a request out to developers right now to submit concepts for the property.

“I’m very reluctant to put the old library on the table just for trust reasons,” he said. “We put out an RFP, and several nonprofits are working hard on that. That’s just not my first choice.”

Image courtesy of the Orange County Property Appraisers Office.

Questions or comments? Email the editor at WinterParkVoiceEditor@gmail.com

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    By: Beth Kassab

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