Blue Bamboo and city hammer out lease for old library building

After what was, at times, a contentious discussion, the city took another step toward a new path for the old library

June 27, 2024

By Zoey Thomas

The Winter Park City Commission unanimously approved Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts’ lease agreement for the old library building after two hours of negotiations at a meeting Wednesday evening.

Earlier this month, the Commission turned down a higher dollar proposal from Rollins College in a 4-1 vote to allow Blue Bamboo to take over the building. Mayor Sheila DeCiccio was the lone vote against the project then, but she voted to approve the lease this week.

Blue Bamboo, a local nonprofit live music venue, plans to turn the building into a multicultural arts center by renting out rooms to other nonprofits — including Central Florida Vocal Arts and the Winter Park Chamber Music Academy. It drafted its proposed lease to the Commission with input from City Manager Randy Knight.

DeCiccio presented several changes to the proposed lease, all of which she called “essential to protect the residents of Winter Park.” The mayor voiced concerns about the venue’s financial prospects throughout the meeting.

“We’re dealing with a lessor who doesn’t have a proven financial record behind them,” she said. “If we’re going to take this leap of faith, we need to have some protections in there.”

The old library building will require at least $175,000 in renovations to bring it up to code, according to an inspection report presented by Vice Mayor Todd Weaver earlier this month. Blue Bamboo’s managing director, Chris Cortez, has said he has access to up to $800,000 for first-floor renovations alone in the three-story building.

DeCiccio suggested requiring Blue Bamboo to provide evidence of available cash in the bank or a preapproved loan before beginning renovations on the building. Such documentation, which could include bank statements or a loan approval letter, would have to be submitted within one year.

Weaver opposed the requirement, calling Blue Bamboo’s bank statements “none of our business.” Winter Park has no such terms for other nonprofits that rent city property, including historic home museum Casa Feliz or the Winter Park Library, he said.

DeCiccio urged commissioners not to compare Blue Bamboo’s “unique position” to the city’s other leased properties. She was eventually outnumbered by her fellow commissioners, who agreed with Weaver that evidence of financial viability was both hard to define and unreasonable to demand. 

“Why are we looking so hard at finding ways to terminate the lease or get them out of the lease?” said Commissioner Craig Russell. “Do we want to go back to paying all the bills to have an empty building?”

During public comment after the Commission’s discussion, however, Blue Bamboo Director Cortez said he had no problem proving viability by going through the building with a contractor, getting a bid and showing funds to the city.

“I could’ve saved us a lot of time, but I was told to be quiet, so I let you guys sit there and work through that mess,” he said. “But it really isn’t necessary, because we think it’s very reasonable.”

Other adjustments went more smoothly. While the original lease specified Blue Bamboo be given five year’s notice in the event of an eviction, and DeCiccio suggested a one-year notice, the commission compromised on two.

Another conversation, over the lease’s parking clause, lasted for several minutes until commissioners eventually agreed the lease’s language on the subject didn’t need changing — other than striking one line that repeated guidelines already listed in the city parking code.

Mark Horn, a musician living in Tavares, was one of 12 Blue Bamboo supporters who spoke during public comment. As a Seattle native who has visited jazz clubs across the country, Horn hopes the city recognizes how special Blue Bamboo is, he said.

“We’re here talking about permitting Blue Bamboo to exist, and I hope very soon that convo shifts to, ‘How can we promote Blue Bamboo?’” he said.

Blue Bamboo said the slight adjustments made to the proposed lease will not affect its business moving forward in a Facebook post following the meeting. It previously criticized the lease proposed by DeCiccio, which it said would sour the deal and only benefit the city.

Commissioners are expected to vote for final approval July 12.


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