Library asks for more dollars as demand for services increases

Library asks for more dollars as demand for services increases

Library asks for more dollars as demand for services increases

Sunday hours and more staff and programming are immediate goals

By Beth Kassab

Winter Park Library Executive Director Melissa Schneider asked the Winter Park City Commission for more money this week in an effort to add Sunday hours and additional staff as demand for content, classes and other programs surges.

“Nationally, libraries have really struggled to get people back in the doors” in a post-pandemic world, she said, “but when we compare ourselves to our peers it’s tremendous.”

Since the new building opened in December 2021, she said, the growth in circulation of youth and family content is especially impressive. The number of active library cards has nearly doubled in the last five years and interest in programs has grown.

In 2018, the library had 42 employees, which dropped to 36 by 2022. But in that same period, average monthly visits increased from 10,548 to 13,400, representing a 15% increase through this year. Wi-Fi and computer use has more than doubled to an anticipated 120,000 sessions this year.

So far, the city’s proposed budget includes a 5% increase or about $92,000 in additional dollars. The city’s contributions are devoted entirely to personnel costs for the nonprofit library, which relies on grants and philanthropy to supplement city government support.

Schneider said the library would need a 24% increase from the city, or about $350,000, to meet the added demand for staff, services and Sunday hours. But she also proposed an alternative scenario — a 14% increase, or $200,000, which she said would still leave some gaps, but would allow some new staff, programming and hours on Sunday when more families are able to use the library.

She committed to contributing more funding from the library endowment and fundraising if the city would increase its contribution. She noted the library will turn 138 years old this year.

Anderson said the city has a small contingency for increased funding, but suggested it also may be possible to provide additional dollars from the Community Redevelopment Agency, which city leaders are hoping to expand and extend before its scheduled sunset in 2027.

Commissioners did not commit to a funding amount, but Mayor Phil Anderson said he was “blown away” by the library’s accomplishments and its ability to buck national trends. The budget won’t be finalized until next month.

At the same meeting the city approved a $230,000 study by Geosyntec Consultants to analyze stormwater management and flood prevention on the west side of the city. The study area includes the library and Lake Mendsen, the pond at MLK Park next to the library, plus areas surrounding Lake Killarney, Lake Bell, Lake Wilderness and Lake Gem. Lake Mendsen has experienced heavily increased flooding since the new library was constructed.

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City to finalize parameters for old library redevelopment

City to finalize parameters for old library redevelopment

City to finalize parameters for old library redevelopment

Commissioners are set to approve requirements for interested developers at Wednesday’s meeting

By Beth Kassab

Residential units combined with a home for arts and culture nonprofits are likely to take over the old city-owned Winter Park Library building based on a list of standards for redevelopment of the site up for consideration by the City Commission this week.

If approved, the Request for Proposal would be the second attempt in about a year by the city to solicit ideas for the building on New England Avenue that became vacant when the new Library and Events Center opened about two years ago.

Commissioners have expressed a desire to reuse the old building, but are also open to razing it if the right concept comes along.

Requirements in the draft RFP include: a maximum of four stories; preferred C-3 zoning, excluding restaurants and food halls; no residential units on the first floor; preservation of an oak tree on the property; only on-site parking; preference to arts, culture and nonprofit organizations and providing space for a traffic roundabout if one becomes needed as S.R. 426 undergoes safety changes.

The draft specifies that proposals will be scored on a variety of factors including financial benefit to the city through a “strong lease payment,” noting the city does not intend to contribute dollars to construction. The amount of community support built into each proposal as well as those submitted by businesses or organizations with a valid city business certificate and physical address in the city for at least one year can help provide proposals an edge, based on the draft scoring matrix.

At least six nonprofits, including the Winter Park Playhouse, the History Museum and the Sidewalk Art Festival, have already expressed an interest in securing space in the building.

Earlier this month, commissioners rejected two offers of land swaps for the building, opting to keep the building as a public asset in keeping with a sentiment strongly expressed by residents at public meetings. 

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Three commissioners want to buy Bank of the Ozarks property for park space

Three commissioners want to buy Bank of the Ozarks property for park space

Three commissioners want to buy Bank of the Ozarks property for park space

The purchase discussion came up as most commissioners said they opposed an offer to swap the property for the old library

By Beth Kassab

Winter Park Commissioners appeared to reject two different land swap proposals for the old Winter Park library building this week, saying they preferred to keep control of the building as a gateway to the city. They opted instead to attempt to purchase the Bank of the Ozarks property offered in one of the potential swaps.

Commissioners Sheila DeCiccio, Todd Weaver and Marty Sullivan said they were in favor of authorizing City Manager Randy Knight to offer $6 million for the property at 1100 N. Orange Avenue, just across Denning Drive from the future site of Seven Oaks Park.

“If we don’t purchase the property we will forever regret it,” DeCiccio said, noting that a multi-story bank building on the Ozarks land would be “out of character” with the neighborhood.

The purchase amount would potentially include $5 million in city bonds and $1 million from other sources.

Mayor Phil Anderson and Commissioner Kris Cruzada expressed concerns about taking on more debt in what is expected to be a lean budget year.

“I’ll count myself into the minority who questions whether a $350,000 per year debt service bill will fit into the next budget,” Anderson said, adding that amount could cover between two and four firefighters or police officers.

Commissioners are set to begin next year’s budget discussions in July.

“By all accounts we are headed into a recession,” Cruzada said. “I like the idea of purchasing it eventually. I just don’t think it’s appropriate at this time given the tight constraints on our budget.”

For now, though, the majority of the elected board asked Knight to pursue the potential purchase as well as to finalize a Request for Proposal to develop the old library site.

The details of what commissioners are looking for on the library site are likely to be approved at the next meeting on June 28.

Public comments at a special meeting about the old library land development earlier this week and those heard at Wednesday’s Commission meeting trended against the city selling the land.

“I have not heard a lot of favorable comments to dispose of the library property,” Sullivan said.

In recent months, commissioners have expressed a desire to favor nonprofit or arts-centered groups for the old building as well as potential residential units. So far, six nonprofits have expressed interest in the old library.

Heather Alexander, executive director of the Winter Park Playhouse, said Wednesday she is still interested in the possibility of the theater finding a home there. But the city is still exploring whether it could save the playhouse, which is losing its lease, by also purchasing the building it currently occupies.

If the city pursues the playhouse building as well as the Bank of the Ozarks land, that would make two properties snapped up by commissioners in the North Orange Avenue area where Seven Oaks Park construction is underway. The bank property would allow the park to expand and provide more greenspace in the midst of an increasingly dense urban corridor.


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Opinions on old library? Speak out next week as city considers land swaps

Opinions on old library? Speak out next week as city considers land swaps

Opinions on old library? Speak out next week as city considers land swaps

Winter Park will hold a neighborhood meeting about the future of the old library followed by a review of potential real estate swaps for the high-profile land

By Beth Kassab

Residents who want to be heard on the future of the old Winter Park Library across from Rollins College will have two opportunities next week.

On Monday, the city will host a session in the City Commission chambers at 5:30 for residents and others to ask questions and voice opinions about the development of the property at 460 New England Avenue that could turn into anything from a home for local nonprofits to workforce housing or a mixed-use development.

City staff will provide a presentation at the meeting followed by a chance for nearby residents to comment along with any other members of the public.

Then on Wednesday, the City Commission will take up the matter at its regular meeting, including a discussion of two potential land swaps recently proposed to city staff.

One offer involves trading the land near the police building at 501 N. Virginia Avenue plus cash for the library property, according to a memorandum included in the commission agenda.

A second concept would provide the city the Bank of the Ozarks property at 1100 Orange Avenue for the old library land to be developed into workforce housing, the memo says.

The commission could decide Wednesday if it wants to pursue one of those options or issue a new Request for Proposal for ideas. So far the commission has said the new development can not exceed four stories or 55 feet, must maintain the oak tree on the east side of the current building and agreed to give preference to concepts that include the arts and local nonprofits.


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Opinions on old library? Speak out next week as city considers land swaps

Six nonprofits seek space in old library

Six nonprofits seek space in old library

Vocal arts group, space museum and theater among contenders to redevelop New England Avenue property

By Beth Kassab

A half dozen nonprofits declared interest in the old Winter Park Library site, answering the city’s call for concepts to remake the old building into a space with an arts and culture component.

The letters of interest to reuse or demolish the 33,000-square-foot former library are scheduled to be discussed at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting along with a separate call for concepts to develop space above the parking lot at the new Seven Oaks Park.

The commission set several guidelines for concepts related to plans for the 1.75-acre library site. Preference will be given to ideas that keep the first floor free of any residential units, don’t require any off-site parking and preserve the oak tree on the east side of the building.

Parking is likely to become a central issue in light of the commission’s recent approval of Rollins College’s plans to build a new art museum and business graduate school nearby as the Alfond Inn undergoes an expansion.

The ideas submitted for the old library site include:

  • Central Florida Vocal Arts and Opera del Sol. The nonprofit currently without a permanent space is looking to use the entire building to create an arts cooperative that would include the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra and Emotions Dance. The group led by Theresa Smith-Levin stated it is willing to negotiate a lease for the space and does not intend to use it as a main performance venue. Central Florida Vocal Arts included several letters of support for its concept and said it has funding support from several high-profile philanthropic organizations such as the Edyth Bush Foundation, United Arts of Central Florida and the Ginsburg Foundation.
  • SkyBuilders 4 All. The group led by Executive Director Carissa Villa describes itself as seeking community development and housing solutions and says it will need about 1,000 square feet for office and project space. The group also provides personal and business financial education.
  • Saving Our Aeronautical Resources Museum. SOAR is a new nonprofit created to inspire kids to go into STEM fields with a special emphasis on space exploration. The group says it will have “generous contributions” from NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Boeing and Kennedy Space Center for an estimated $3 million “build out.” The total cost of the museum is $10.5 million, according to the documents submitted. The idea is to host school field trips and other groups to engage more kids in scientific fields. Ravi Margasahayam, an aerospace engineer who spent 35 years with NASA; Gary Duce, president of Space Training Academy & Research and Susan Omoto, executive director at Casa Feliz, are behind the proposal.
  • Winter Park History Museum. The well-known group is looking to expand its current space from about 900 square-feet to about 5,000-square-feet for a mix of permanent and rotating exhibits and office space.
  • Winter Park Playhouse. The community theater that is losing its lease next year has expressed interest in potential space at Seven Oaks Park, but also submitted a letter of interest for the old library. It is seeking to use about a third of the old building for a 150-175-seat theater.
  • Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. The group is looking for about 1,500 square-feet for permanent office and meeting space to manage one of Winter Park’s best-known annual events.




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Opinions on old library? Speak out next week as city considers land swaps

In Brief: More money for public art, Dinky Dock changes and the new fate of the old library

In Brief: More money for public art, Dinky Dock changes and the new fate of the old library

Recent action by the City Commission will pave the way for more art as well as changes at two high-profile landmarks

After years of trying, Winter Park’s Public Art Advisory Board won approval this month for what will likely be a small, but steady stream of funds from the city budget to help pay for art in public spaces.

The City Commission unanimously approved a plan to dedicate 10% of any increase in the Unassigned General Fund each year to the project. That’s the same formula the city uses to devote money to the acquisition of park land, a plan that has raised about $1 million since it went into place in 2003 at an average of more than $50,000 a year.

While a lot of variables can impact the city budget each year, officials said they expect the public art fund to perform at a similar level.

Members of the public art board pleaded with members of the commission last week to approve the proposal and expressed concern that the “city of culture and heritage” didn’t have dedicated funding for art. The City Commission rejected a proposal last year to create a stream of art funding from building permit fees.

“We have nothing to make our ideas happen,” said Elizabeth Ingram, a member of the Public Art Advisory Board for about a year who also grew up in Winter Park. “It’s disappointing when there isn’t anything to bring those to our city. I don’t think we can rely on private donors anymore.”

Tinker Marsh, another member of the board, also expressed surprise that board did not have any dollars to spend on its mission.

“We really need to make Winter Park the first-class community we know it is,” Marsh said.

The board has discussed recommending works of art for the new Seven Oaks Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park and other city gateways.

Commissioner Marty Sullivan called the funding plan a “good start.”

“This is a very good move in the right direction,” he said.

New plans for the old library

Since the new Winter Park Library and Events Center opened, ideas and debate have swirled around what to do with the old library site on the corner of East Fairbanks and Lyman avenues.

Commissioners rejected a proposal earlier this year to repurpose the old building by transforming it into office and business incubator space among other uses.

Now, however, there appears to be agreement among the commission to ask developers for new ideas and, this time around, allow residential units and also permit the building to be demolished rather than reused.

Commissioners agreed at a work session last week to consider putting out a new Request for Proposal as soon as next month.

A spokeswoman for Rollins College said the school is not currently interested in the site and is considering a workforce housing project elsewhere.

Workforce housing is a hot topic in Winter Park as home prices have soared beyond the means of many of the people who work for some of the city’s largest employers such as Rollins, the hospital and City Hall.

More parking at Dinky Dock 

The number of parking spaces at the popular Dinky Dock public boat ramp will increase by 50% to 33 regular spaces and 12 trailer spaces, under a plan approved by the City Commission.

Repairs will also be made to the dock’s boardwalk.

The city will spend about $154,000 on the project from the more than $15 million it received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act or COVID stimulus money approved by Congress in 2021.

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