At its April 27 meeting, the Commission led off discussion with a tentative plan to lift restrictions on public facilities. Effective May 1, the golf course opens with social distancing and other restrictions. For complete information, go to cityofwinterpark.org/golf
Some retail shops and restaurants will also open on a limited basis. The Tennis Center, Boat Ramps, Dog Park and Farmer’s Market remain closed for the time being. Sadly, hair salons did not make the cut, either.
Plea for Patience and Protecting Medical Workers
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper pointed out that we are nowhere near having a full understanding of the novel coronavirus, citing reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere describing young infected victims, who were asymptomatic but whose vital organs were being attacked by the virus and who had suffered blood clots and strokes, leaving some permanently disabled or deceased.
In a passionate plea for the safety of doctors and other medical personnel, Cooper urged citizens to have patience and to observe protective protocols. “Masks,” she said, “are less to protect the wearer than they are to protect others from infection by asymptomatic people who are carrying the virus but who don’t know they are. We need adequate testing,” she stated, “before it is safe for us to go back to our normal lives.
”Consider the health and safety of those we turn to for help when we are least able to help ourselves,” she urged.
Site Prep at Library-Events Center Runs Amuck
After several months of distraction – like city elections, coronavirus, chickens — the Library-Events Center project once again floated to the surface – but the discussion was about what lies beneath the surface. Demucking and soil remediation of the site is underway. Brasfield & Gorrie is doing the work.
Go Back a Year to the GMP
Last year, at a May 2019 Commission Meeting, the contractor, the architects, the engineering firm and the owner’s representative for the library-events center project presented a project budget that included the long-awaited Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). In that budget, there was an allowance for soil remediation. During the meeting the estimated price, which was first at zero, climbed to $100,000, then to $150,000 and finally settled at $180,000. It was an ‘allowance’ instead of a line item cost, because at the time the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, and the geotechnical engineer, Ardaman, were not sure what they would find when they began to dig.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper stated that she had consulted several architects not involved in the project who indicated the amount was insufficient. When Cooper brought this up at the May 2019 meeting, city staff present at the meeting dismissed her concerns as unfounded. “We’re dealing with professionals,” they said, “and they know what they’re doing.”
A Year Passes – Demucking Costs More than Double
At the April 27, 2020 virtual Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight reported that demucking costs have climbed to between $400,000 and $500,000. This could eat up close to half the City’s contingency fund, which Knight said was between $850,000 and $900,000 — a large hit this early in the construction process.
“Good News – Bad News”
In a communique with Commissioners and Senior Staff dated April 24, 2020, Knight wrote: “The good news/bad news. As you may recall, the commission chose to have the contractor do the demucking instead of city staff. The good news is the city can’t be blamed for delays in it taking three to four weeks longer than projected. The bad news is we are paying contractor costs instead of city costs for the labor and overhead. The allowance for this work . . . based on Ardaman’s projections of unsuitable soil was $180,000. We asked [Brasfield & Gorrie] to give us a best and worst case scenario for the remaining 5 sections . . . . In the worst case scenario this will hit the contingency for $318K. In the best case scenario it will be over by $227K.”
According to the memo, Brasfield & Gorrie had just completed week three of demucking and was projecting an additional five weeks to finish the job. They have found more unsuitable soil than Ardaman projected and have had to dig four to five feet deeper in some places. They will also have to demuck further to the west than originally projected.
Who Should Pay?
Acknowledging that the City will likely have to bear the burden of these costs, Commissioner Cooper urged Monday night that, in light of the assurances offered in the May 2019 meeting, “the City should have some opportunity for cost sharing – meaning, those representing the City’s interests should remind [Brasfield & Gorrie] of that.”
Rewind to 1958 – Muck Makes News
The Winter Park Sun reported in 1958 that the 21-acre site now known as MLK Park, recently acquired by the City by purchase and by condemnation, was in bad shape. “One-third is covered by muck which at some places goes 40 feet deep,” the Sun reported. “Heavy structures cannot be erected because of the swampy and soft condition of the land.” Then City Manager Clark Maxwell told the Sun, “The entire area has to be investigated and the ground tested before it is possible to determine how to develop it.”
The Sun went on the report, “Mr. Maxwell thinks that it would be a good idea to pump out the lake [Mendsen] and enlarge it considerably and use the residue to fill and elevate the surrounding land. It seems, however, probable that soil has to be brought in to a large part of the area to give it a firm surface. Under such a plan, the swampy Mendsen Lake would become a beautiful attraction and asset.”
Delays Are Nothing New
In a later article, the Sun reported the opening of the West New England recreation area – now MLK Park – had been delayed “because of the need to fill in much of the ground.” To supplement the soil residue they were using as landfill, Mayor Raymond W. Greene had requested contractors working on major jobs in the city to bring their construction debris to the site for use as landfill. Mayor Greene assured residents the landfill had been provided and trucked in at “no cost to the City.”
Here again are the four candidates, this time on the Library debate stage. The program was moderated by Carol Foglesong of the League of Women Voters. Marty Sullivan and Jeffrey Blydenburgh face off for Seat 1; Sheila DeCiccio and Carl Creasman vie for Seat 2.
In addition to opening and closing statements, candidates received three questions from the moderator and an additional four questions from the audience. Click on images at the end of the article for unedited video of the debate. Questions and summarized answers appear below in the order of rotation.
Name a strength, a weakness, an opportunity and a threat to Winter Park.
Creasman: Winter Park’s strength is people. A weakness is that we are at the center of the fastest growing region in the country. The opportunity is that we are a wealthy city and can control our own resources, like the electric utility. We should create our own mini-mass-transit system and our own broadband network. Our threat is an internal one — the tone of political discourse in our city, which has the potential to lead us into dangerous places.
DeCiccio: Our strength is people and a sense of community. We have the opportunity to expand our greenspace, with the Post Office and Progress Point. Our weaknesses are traffic congestion and inadequate infrastructure. Failure to immediately address problems as they arise poses a threat to the city.
Sullivan: Our strength lies in our strong financial well-being. Weakness is the conflict between citizen and developer interests. We need to balance what enhances our quality of life with what gives a developer a reasonable rate of return. Both the opportunity and the threat lie in the Orange Avenue Overlay. Opportunity is in the increased green space and bicycle and pedestrian ways. The threat lies in excessive entitlement giveaways to developers.
Blydenburgh: The strength of our community is its people. Our weakness is that, while we have a vision, we don’t have a master plan for the city. The opportunity is that we are close to being the best community in Florida, and we have the opportunity to be even better by fixing broadband and local transit problems and supporting our young families. The threat is the contentiousness, which needs to end.
Cite an example of change you propose to improve Winter Park. How will your proposed change be measured and evaluated?
DeCiccio: I would look to our Parks, Lakes and Urban Forestry. We lack a 10-year maintenance plan, the last having expired in 2016. Maintenance is the elephant in the living room. Who will take care of all these projects that are coming on line right now? .
Sullivan: We should address traffic in a different way. We need a calibrated, dynamic traffic model that will enable us to look at what kind of road changes we can make that will ease congestion. When we begin paying for Sunrail maintenance and operations next year, Sunrail needs to go from being commuter rail to being mass transit system. Every person on Sunrail represents one less car on the road. Measures would be Sunrail ridership and traffic counts.
Blydenburgh: The community should focus on young families who represent our future. We should employ technology that allows two-way communication at our Commission meetings. The opportunity for increased participation in government issues is important, as are upgrades and maintenance of our playing fields.
Creasman: Our city would be better if we got Lynx buses off our interior roads and had our own mini-mass-transit system, funded with CRA dollars, in the form of either a trolley or an autonomous vehicle. While we cannot expect to fix traffic congestion immediately, this would provide a measurable benefit over time by decreasing traffic on our interior roads and addressing our critical environmental issues.
Are you happy with the level of transparency you see at City Hall in conducting meetings and sharing information honoring public records requests?
Sullivan: Not really. The city website is not user-friendly. I’ve received highly detailed reports from City Manager Randy Knight that would be very useful for everyone, but the information is available only to Commissioners. We need to better manage our communications to provide full and timely information.
Blydenburgh: We need good communications in order to make good decisions. You can get just about anything you want if you ask Randy Knight, but it shouldn’t be that way. The city’s responsibility is to inform us. I think we should redesign the city website so we can find the information that we need.
Creasman: There has been a “Balkanization of Communication,” and we are now talking past each other. Since the explosion of mass media communications technology in 2007-2008, communication presents a huge challenge for the city. Do we need to update the way the city communicates? Yes, but we need to recognize just what a large task that is.
DeCiccio: We need to improve the city communications department. We need to all have the same information so that we are all speaking from the same page. I would also like to see at least one Commission workshop every month, where Commissioners can publicly discuss their thinking. We should not have to wait for weeks to get minutes from a board or commission meeting.
Will you support an increase in city funding for the new library? If you are asked, as a commissioner, to stop or delay the library project, would you vote yes or no?
Blydenburgh: Our job as commissioners is to ensure the new library is delivered on the budget and the schedule established by the current commission. I would not support a stop or delay in library construction.
Creasman: We should increase city funding for the library, and I would vote no if someone tried to stop the project.
DeCiccio: I am in full support of the new library and increased city funding for it. However, if cost overruns get out of hand, then I would have to take another look. It is very difficult for me to say yes or no to that question. If serious problems surface, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t take another hard look.
Sullivan: Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, “Winter Park can be depended upon to do the right thing once we’ve exhausted every other possibility.” We need the best in-depth research possible to determine our citizens’ wishes. Hence, as your next commissioner, I will represent you, the citizens, on this issue and, from the results of the research, I will do your bidding.
Referencing 17-92, knowing that the infrastructure has already experienced failure with the present load, why is this not given paramount consideration when higher FARs [floor area ratios] are being put into place over existing codes?
Creasman: I think city has done a good job of budgeting, and city staff has done a good job of maintaining our infrastructure. I would look forward to continuing to support the expertise of city staff.
DeCiccio: We are fortunate that our sewer and water lines are in such good shape that the city has been able to reallocate that money into undergrounding our power lines. Water quality and water treatment are the important issues now, so that we avoid contaminating our lakes, streams and aquifer.
Sullivan: The city has done a good job of maintaining our core infrastructure. We need concurrency with our infrastructure and our new development to make sure new development does not over-tax our infrastructure system.
Blydenburgh: And to reach concurrency, right now the burden is on the city. We need to shift the burden to developers by implementing developer impact fees. The developers need to pay for the impact of their development on our infrastructure.
Are you in favor of Orange County Mayor Demmings’ one-cent transportation tax? State the reason for your position.
DeCiccio: Strongly support. Fifty percent of it will be paid for by tourists and it will be applied to transportation infrastructure. Right now, only 32 percent of the people in Winter Park both live and work here. Everyone else commutes. It can take up to two or three hours on Lynx, so if we could have more direct routes, that would be fewer cars on the roads. We also need to connect Sunrail to the airport and have it run nights and weekends.
Sullivan: Strongly support. Compared with other cities our size, we have about one-third the public bus system we should have. The tax will provide a dedicated funding source to invest in mass transit. We should turn Sunrail into a transit system and expand it. Every rider on Sunrail is one less car on the road.
Blydenburgh: Strongly support. The estimated amount coming into Winter Park annually is between $8 and $12 million. This is something the community should support.
Creasman: Strongly support. We need to invest in our police force, a mini-mass-transit system and Sunrail expansion. If we are going to solve the problems confronting us, we have to be willing to pay for solutions.
Do you support the Rollins plan to move their graduate business school and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum to property they own north of Fairbanks
Sullivan: To locate the Cornell Museum there would be wonderful. Bringing the Crummer Business School to that site would be the first time Rollins has brought classes north of Fairbanks. The third issue is the massing of the buildings, without much open space. I think there should be more open space, and I am not in favor of bringing students north of Fairbanks.
Blydenburgh: I support the project. The current commission has made several recommendations for increased setbacks and open space. I don’t have a concern with students coming north of Fairbanks, and to have the Cornell there would be a huge plus.
Creasman: I would listen to the residents on this one, to find out what works for everybody. Generally, Rollins has been very positive for our city. In fact, as of 2008, they were the second-largest taxpayer in the city, but I think Rollins has more work to do on their design.
DeCiccio: I strongly support the Cornell Museum relocating to that site, but I am opposed to the current design for the business school. The massing isn’t right. I support the college moving Crummer there, but they need to redesign the building so it doesn’t look so much like a prison wall.
In contrast to January 13 – 16, the Commission breezed through its January 27 meeting, even though they discussed several items of major importance to the community, among them acquisition of the US Post Office property and approval of the Canopy project.
Canopy Approved 3-2, and is No Longer the Canopy
The big news – well, it’s long past being news, this being Winter Park – is that the library-events center project finally received a 3-2 thumbs-up from the Commission. The issue had been tabled at the earlier January 13 / 16 meeting. Mayor Steve Leary and Commissioners Greg Seidel and Sarah Sprinkel voted to proceed with the Library-Events Center project now that there is a construction budget, despite the fact that project funding is still shy several million dollars – how many million depends on which math you use. Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver voted against.
Commissioner Greg Seidel moved to rename the project The Winter Park Library and Events Center. The motion passed 4-1, and the ‘Canopy’ moniker is a thing of the past.
How to Spend CRA $$$?
Prior to the regular Commission meeting, the six-member Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), consisting of the five City Commissioners plus Orange County Representative Hal George, met to discuss their spending priorities for the millions of unallocated tax dollars that will flow into the CRA before it sunsets in 2027.
#1 CRA Priority – Acquire Post Office Site to Expand Central Park
Cooper led off the conversation with her list of priorities. Lengthy discussion that followed revealed very little disagreement among the Commissioners. First on the priority list was to give City Manager Randy Knight and City Attorney Kurt Ardaman the green light to negotiate with the US Postal Service to secure the current Post Office site for the purpose of expanding Central Park. The plan is for the retail Post Office to remain in the City core, and for the City to work with USPS to relocate the distribution facility to somewhere outside the City core.
The price tag to the City could easily run six to seven figures, but Commissioners agreed on a 5-0 vote that it was worth it to secure land to expand Central Park.
Other priorities included a $750,000 enhancement to the Library, lighting and tree design for SR 17-92, $3 million for MLK Park improvements, an $8 million downtown parking garage, $4 million for a parking garage that will not be in the park but will service MLK Park and $200,000 a year for affordable housing. The CRA will maintain a 20 percent reserve fund.
Presentation from Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center
Immediately after the CRA meeting adjourned, the regular Commission meeting opened with a presentation by DPAC President and CEO Kathy Ramsberger. DPAC is celebrating its fifth anniversary. The audience at City Hall was treated to a full array of statistics on attendance, programming, past and future fundraising and the center’s fiscal health in acknowledgement of the City’s status as a major donor to the arts center.
Ramsberger noted that over the past five years, DPAC has doubled their business, climbing from $22 million the first year to ‘close to’ $44 million, partly the result of growing ticket revenue outside Orlando. “This is an international organization – a destination,” said Ramsberger, “generating over $700 million in economic impact.”
Approval of Library-Events Center
Going from one grand project to the next, the Commission took up the question of the Winter Park Library and Events Center, deciding on a 3-2 vote to proceed with the project.
A Very Expensive ‘Done Deal’
As the Library-Events Center project moves forward, and Winter Park looks forward to a grand new facility, it may be wise to keep in mind points made by dissenters, including the citizens who offered public comment and the Commissioners who voted against the project because they felt it had strayed too far from the initial concept approved by the voters.
As Peter Gottfried pointed out, nearly 11,000 people voted on the $30 million bond issue, and it squeaked through on a margin of just 214 votes.
Need Public Transit, Not Parking Spaces
UCF Professor Jay Jurie questioned the emphasis on parking lots and garages and said, “We may very well be at the end of the fossil fuel era.” He likened the current planning process to “classic Maginot Line” planning, referring to French plans to repel a German invasion which, said Jurie, were unsuccessful because the French “were planning for the last war, not the war that was coming.” He urged the Commission to “look forward” and to be mindful of the climate crisis and the need for an effective and efficient public transit system.
Several speakers, including Commissioner Weaver, compared the cost per square foot of the Library-Events Center to the recently completed Wellness Center, which came in at $525 per square foot, and the new wing of Winter Park Hospital, which cost $661 per square foot. The per-square-foot cost of the Library-Events Center is projected to be $854.
Not the First Adjaye Design to Break the Budget
William Deuchler was one of several who noted the shift in emphasis from the library to the events center. “When we voted for the bond issue,” said Deuchler, “the emphasis was on the library, not the events center. With the TDT/ARC grant, the emphasis shifted to the events center. Citizens who voted for the project expected the City to build what was promised and to do so within budget.”
Deuchler cautioned that the Adjaye-designed African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington D.C. is an example of what could happen here. Over the course of that project, the structure increased in size by 14 percent over initial specifications and costs went over original budget projections by “a whopping 80 percent,” according to Deuchler. Initial projection was $300 million; final cost was $540 million.
Adjaye himself admits that, when it comes to his work, “whether working on a house or a grand civic project, . . . controversy is normal.” In 2019, Adjaye told London’s Financial Times reporter Helen Barrett, “If you want a tasteful and elegant thing, you’re not going to come to David Adjaye. I’m interested in clients who have a strange site that has a difficulty. Those are the projects I gravitate towards, and those are the kind of clients that gravitate towards me.”
Following the library-events center vote, the Mayor opened the floor for public comment. Four people, only one of whom was from Winter Park, spoke in strident tones objecting to the presence of the Winter Park Police Department’s armored car at the recent Martin Luther King birthday celebration in Hannibal Square. That armored car has appeared in previous Hannibal Square events, as well as in the Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day parades. It seems to be a draw for kids – of all ages.
The speakers, citing strife on a national level between police and African Americans, particularly young black men, urged the City to emphasize peace and community building rather than a display of police force at events celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Police Chief Michael Deal expressed surprise, as he had worked closely with community leaders in the Hannibal Square neighborhood to plan the participation of his department in the event. “Well,” said Deal, “I have the next year to work with the community to see what they want, and if they are uncomfortable with the armored car, we’ll plan something else.”
“Above all, I want to honor the life of Dr. King,” said Deal. “He did not go to jail 29 times and give his life for his cause to perpetuate this kind of dissension. Our mission is to go into the community and build positive relationships with people, especially the children.”
Starbuck’s on Lee Road
After a second vote by the Commission to move forward on negotiations with the USPS and the approval of a plat of 10 single family homes on New York Avenue on land previously owned by the Christian Science Church, the Commission unanimously approved a free-standing Starbuck’s on Lee Road. Shortly afterward, the meeting was adjourned.
Yesterday’s estimate of a five-and-a-half-hour Commission meeting missed the mark by a mile. For an unprecedented 11 hours, Commissioners struggled to make sense of two of the largest projects ever undertaken by this city – and failed.
OAO Discussion Continued to Thursday, Jan. 16
At 2:45 a.m., Commissioner Greg Seidel finally moved to pull the plug on the meeting, and the Commission agreed to ‘continue’ the Orange Avenue Overlay discussion on Thursday, January 16, at 11:00 a.m. Commissioners were advised to block out approximately four hours for the Thursday meeting.
At Thursday’s Continuance, Commissioners will vote on somewhere between 40 and 50 proposed amendments to the OAO ordinances.
As of this writing, the Thursday meeting is not on the January schedule of City meetings. Check the City website for updates or changes in dates and times. www.cityofwinterpark.org
Earlier in the evening, the Canopy project met a similar fate. After an extended but inconclusive back-and-forth with the owner’s representative and the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, followed by the customary back-and-forth among the Commissioners regarding the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP), the item was tabled until the January 27 Commission meeting.
Commissioner Greg Seidel requested a Commission workshop to discuss such items as the contingency fund and possible sources of funds for the project. Likely funding sources include issuing the remaining $2 Million in bonds, the CRA, and the City’s General Fund. To date, the City has raised only about $2 Million of the promised $5.4 Million in donations.
Seidel also requested the results of Brasfield & Gorrie’s latest three large projects, to compare the (GMP) with actual costs upon delivery.
How the Canopy project and the Orange Avenue Overlay ended up on the same agenda is anyone’s guess, though there must be someone at City Hall who knows. The sheer volume of discussion and the number of amendments proposed is a clear indication that neither project is at a point where sufficient information has been digested for the Commission to come to a decision. The City needs to finish baking these cakes before anyone else cuts into them.
Record Crowd – Citizens Turned Away
Hundreds of people showed up at City Hall to listen or to speak. The building, including the downstairs lobby, was at capacity, and many citizens had to be turned away. Communications Director Clarissa Howard went through the crowd in the lobby and escorted those who wanted to speak up to the Commission Chambers and, in most cases, secured seating for them.
Last night’s meeting demonstrated the folly of putting two mega-projects – especially ones around which there is a lot of positive and negative energy – on the same agenda.
The suggestion is the crafting of an ordinance that states, when a meeting is scheduled on a date certain, the meeting must be called to order and adjourned upon that date.
As the Commission voted 3 to 1 Monday night to move the Canopy project to the next phase, the discussion surrounding their decision raised more questions than answers.
Guaranteed Maximum Price Due in October
The Canopy project will move from the Design Development phase into the Construction Documents phase. This phase will conclude in October, when the design team will come back to the Commission with construction drawings and a guaranteed maximum price.
Weaver Wants to Slow Down
With only four commissioners present – Commissioner Carolyn Cooper was absent – Commissioner Todd Weaver tried to persuade the other three to ‘push the pause button’ on the project until the full Commission is present and has all the information necessary to move forward. After a heated exchange with Mayor Steve Leary, Weaver concluded his remarks but stopped short of making a motion to table the project.
Seidel Offers Conditional Support
Commissioner Greg Seidel seemed ambivalent about the decision. “So, I don’t want to make a decision not knowing what the cost is going to be,” said Seidel. “I’m okay to move forward to the next phase . . . and if we’re pretty close in dollars, it’s going to be hard to say no. But if it comes in at $50 or $55 million, we are going to have to have some more discussions . . . .”
Was There ‘Proper and Public Notice’ of Project Changes?
During public comment, former Commissioner Phil Anderson weighed in with a series of pointed questions to Commissioners, City Attorney, Bond Counsel and City Manager about whether “. . . they could guarantee that proper and public notice had been given to residents, bond holders and each commissioner” regarding the following five issues.
The “material change in scope” eliminating approximately 14,000 square feet from the library;
The “change in use” . . . emphasizing international convention tourism adjacent to the expanded Children’s Library program;
The reduction in green space of MLK Park by approximately 2 acres;
The “material changes” in the Total Construction Budget and Operating Expenses and that the City Manager has properly budgeted and reserved sufficient contingency and has a sufficient funding plan for the project in place;
That qualified, licensed civil and structural engineers have approved the drawings and specifications and have certified that the design as budgeted . . . fully meets the existing . . . soil conditions, storm water and parking requirements; and that the City Manager and staff have opined as to sufficiency of those certifications?
Anderson suggested “postponing further action until the City Attorney and City Manager have confirmed the notice of and the content of these questions.”
How Much Will It Cost to Go to Construction Documents Phase?
The final question, posed by Commissioner Seidel, caused the most consternation. The question was, how much will it cost for the design team to create construction documents and come back to the Commission with a guaranteed maximum price? In other words, how much will it cost to go to the next phase?
City Manager Randy Knight said, ‘off the top of his head,’ he didn’t know. Seidel turned to the audience, where representatives of the architectural firm, the construction company and the owner’s representative were sitting, causing considerable back-and-forth among them, but none of them could come up with an answer either.
‘That Number Exists Somewhere’
Mayor Leary got the meeting back on track when he stated, “That number exists somewhere, so why don’t we move forward while you guys get us somewhere in the ballpark.” With that, Leary asked the City Clerk to read the roll. Leary, Seidel and Sprinkel voted in favor of moving forward to the Construction Documents phase, with Weaver casting the sole dissenting vote.
City Manager Randy Knight later confirmed the cost of going to the Construction Documents phase is $640,000.