Commissioner: What about market or food hall at new Progress Point?

Commissioner: What about market or food hall at new Progress Point?

Commissioner: What about market or food hall at new Progress Point?

Sheila DeCiccio asks to bring development ideas forward for new park along Orange Avenue

by Beth Kassab / February 23, 2023

Winter Park City Commissioners agreed Wednesday to push for more urgency in the development of potential retail and business space at Progress Point, a new park under development on the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio asked that the board consider putting out requests for development proposals soon and suggested a concept modeled off of the popular East End Market shopping and food hall in Orlando’s nearby Audubon Park Garden District neighborhood.

“I spoke with the businesses on both sides of Orange Avenue … and they want to see this,” she said, noting that Progress Point has the potential to turn that stretch of Orange Avenue into the “next Main Street, but it will not happen if not activated.”

Several small businesses grew into success stories from tiny quarters inside East End Market such as Gideon’s Bakehouse, purveyor of fist-size cookies, which now also has a shop in Disney Springs.

Commissioners agreed to discuss requesting formal proposals in the next month or two along with soliciting new concepts for the old Winter Park Library building, which is now being discussed as potential workforce housing.

The city board also agreed on its lobbying priorities in Washington D.C. this year and added Mead Botanical Gardens and Howell Branch Preserve to its list of parks that would benefit from new federal dollars.

Along with park improvements, commissioners approved another run at acquiring the Post Office property that could expand Central Park along Park Avenue. They would like to see grant dollars to improve stormwater drainage projects in the wake of Hurricane Ian, which brought swift and severe flooding throughout Central Florida in September. City staff noted there would be heavy competition among cities for those dollars.

“How many grants have they actually gotten for us?” asked DeCiccio. “I just want to know what we’re getting for our money.”

City staff responded that lobbyist Jim Davenport of Thorn Run Partners helped secure more than $100,000 for signals at city intersections, which has helped the fire department respond to calls.

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Commission will consider workforce housing, other ideas for old library site

Commission will consider workforce housing, other ideas for old library site

Commission will consider workforce housing, other ideas for old library site

by Beth Kassab / February 11, 2023

Winter Park Commissioners this week ended exclusive negotiations with a prominent real estate firm to redevelop the old Winter Park Library and appeared poised to consider workforce housing or other residential units on the site instead.

The 4-1 vote (Commissioner Kris Cruzada was the only dissent) to terminate an agreement with Harbert Realty for the 1.75-acre site valued at about $6 million also effectively halted the commission’s vision to repurpose the building into co-working space along with other uses, including a possible café and room for public events. 

Damien Madsen, a managing director at Harbert, pleaded with commissioners to continue the agreement and attempted to negotiate new terms such as a new amount for the ground lease on the property controlled by the city and city oversight over the building leases. 

“We put a lot of time into this effort abiding by the deal that we were given,” Madsen said, noting that the city outlined terms such as reusing rather than demolishing the old building and retaining city ownership. “We followed the rules. Based on those rules you set for us, this is the proposal we can give you.”

But commissioners expressed reservations about those parameters now. 

“What the commission is grappling with is the use the city really wants for this building,” said Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio of the property at 460 E. New England Avenue across from Rollins College that was left vacant when the new Winter Park Library and Events Center opened in 2021. 

Commissioner Marty Sullivan said more ideas need to be considered.

“We did not properly put down our ideas for that building,” Sullivan said. “It makes me uncomfortable that we’re having second thoughts about that. It’s hard to admit I made a mistake and rushed my own thinking of where to go with that property.”

He said he has been approached by other interested Winter Park developers, who have suggested alternative uses such as turning the property into workforce housing for city or Rollins staff, who often can’t afford to live in the city where the median home price in the fourth quarter of last year was more than $860,000 in the 32789 ZIP code, according to the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. The median price for the Orlando region was about $350,000.  

Mayor Phil Anderson said he had heard about a potential concept by developer Alan Ginsburg related to workforce housing on the site, but had not discussed it while the city was in an exclusive arrangement with Harbert. 

Ginsburg, a well-known local philanthropist who has developed a number of residential projects, including student housing across from the University of Central Florida, did not return a phone call or emailed questions about the concept. 

Sullivan noted that the response time for the initial RFP won by Madsen’s group might have been too short, and that given time, other parties have expressed interest in re-developing the building.

Madsen suggested that commissioners could subsidize existing units in the city to create workforce housing options rather than build new units from scratch. 

LaWanda Thompson, a resident and advocate for the historically Black community on the city’s west side, said she attended a meeting years ago about what should become of the old library and there was broad consensus among residents that co-working space would be most beneficial. 

“I remember my personal request as a citizen from the Hannibal Square community was that there be some re-enfranchisement for businesses of color that need business space,” she said. “I hope that includes space for minority businesses like myself.”

At the start of the discussion Madsen asked to delay a vote on ending the agreement because of questions over whether Commissioner Todd Weaver had resigned and if his participation could cast a cloud of uncertainty over any decision made at Wednesday’s meeting. 

Weaver sent a mass email out on Feb. 3 to announce he is “stepping down,” but at Wednesday’s city meeting argued the email did not constitute a resignation and said he planned to stay in his seat. The commission is set to decide whether he can do so at a special meeting next week.

After voting to end Madsen’s agreement with the city, Weaver launched into a PowerPoint presentation he prepared that featured the image of a dinosaur fossil, though it was unclear what he was driving at.

“Darn it, I’m tired of Winter Garden and Tavares pulling over on the cool factor on Winter Park,” Weaver said in a rare admission that other cities were gaining on Winter Park’s regional reputation as a go-to place for dining and strolling. “This is an opportunity to get back on the cool train.” 

Image credit City of Winter Park


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Possible Deal on Old Library Building

Possible Deal on Old Library Building

Possible Deal on Old Library Building

City Enters Period of Negotiation

by Anne Mooney / August 13, 2022

On Thursday, August 11, 2022, three Commissioners voted to enter into a 90-day exclusive negotiation period with Harbert Realty Services, which has submitted a proposal to renovate and manage the 43-year-old former library building on New England Avenue. Commissioners Kris Cruzada and Sheila DeCiccio and Mayor Phil Anderson were present at the meeting.

Commissioner Todd Weaver was out of town and Commissioner Marty Sullivan was representing Winter Park at the annual Florida League of Cities state-wide conference celebrating the centennial anniversary of that organization.

RFP terms limited proposals

The City’s Request for Proposal (RFP) had strict and limiting requirements. Respondents must agree to a land lease rather than a sale; they had to reuse the existing building; and the use had to be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

Limitations dictated by Old Library Reuse Task Force

The limitations in the RFP were not the arbitrary decision of this Commission, rather they stemmed from recommendations of the Old Library Reuse Task Force formed in March 2019. The task force held 10 public meetings, interviewed numerous stakeholders and solicited public comment both at meetings and through the City website and social media.

The Committee’s final report concluded, “Most public comment related to maintaining some sort of city control over the site. It was unclear . . . whether the passion for the site meant the building and land, or if just retaining ownership of the land was important. Few spoke to any aesthetic benefit of the structure, but many did speak to keeping property for city and community use.”

Harbert Realty Services the only respondent

In the end, the restrictive terms of the RFP limited the number of respondents to one – Harbert Realty Services. According to City staff, the chief limiting factors were the City’s refusal to sell the building and the requirement to use the existing building.

Harbert has proposed a 60-year term at $250,000 per year, with a 10 percent rent escalation every five years. In addition to the initial 60-year term, Harbert proposed four 10-year renewal options.

First floor would be focused on wellness

Harbert proposes to sublet the ground floor of the building to a combination of wellness-related businesses and a health food café. The upper two floors would host shared office space. Harbert anticipates investing around $10.5 million in the renovation of the building.

Office Space for Start-ups

Damien Madsen, Sr. Vice President and Managing Director of Harbert, stated Thursday that it already has a tenant for the upper two floors. Madsen described the tenant as a nationally branded company “. . .that provides shared workspaces, meeting and training rooms, huddle rooms and a variety of private [and] open seating office space.” The space would be geared primarily toward non-profits and smaller start-up operations who want small space and either short leases, usually for a year or less, or part-time leases for one or two days per week.


Harbert’s proposal provides an annual cash flow of $250,000, plus escalation every five years, and it puts the property on the City tax rolls. There will be positive economic benefits from uses in the building, whereas if the building remains vacant it will continue to drain City resources.


According to City staff, the highest and best use of the property from an appraisal standpoint would be to allow multi-family residential instead of the proposed commercial uses. The property is currently zoned R-4.

Commissioners optimistic

Commissioners we spoke with seemed optimistic about the chances of successful negotiations. Mayor Phil Anderson pointed out that Harbert Realty Services was the only firm that was willing to take on the project. Commissioner Marty Sullivan summed it up this way. “Is the proposal perfect? No, but it’s pretty good. I hope we don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”

If, at the end of the negotiation period, Harbert and the City fail to reach an agreement, City Manager Randy Knight believes one of the two limiting conditions – land lease and using the existing structure – will likely have to change to generate more interest in a project at that location.

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New WPPL Opens for Business

New WPPL Opens for Business

New WPPL Opens for Business

by Anne Mooney / December 15, 2021

On a cloudless Florida morning, December 11, Winter Park dignitaries were joined by an estimated 1,500 men, women, children, and dogs for the Ribbon Cutting ceremony officially opening the new Winter Park Public Library at 1052 W. Morse Blvd.

The speeches, which always come before everything else, included remarks by the architect, Sir David Adjaye, who was present for the ceremony. Following the speeches, the ceremonial book transfer from the old library to the new took place as Mikayla Miller rode in on the Book Bike, escorted by a marching band.

Once the ribbon was severed, more than a thousand people flowed through the doors of the new library, where there was something for everyone – from roving Marvel superheroes and Star Wars storm troopers to virtual reality and a live discussion between Sir David Adjaye and Library Director Sabrina Bernat.


Architect Sir David Adjaye


Crowd takes in opening remarks.


Mikayla Miller transfers the ceremonial book from the old library to the new.


Architect Sir David Adjaye and WPPL Director Sabrina Bernat discuss the new Winter Park Library.


Making sure everyone’s safe.


Superheroes – always there to help out.


Meanwhile, on the second floor in the children’s section . . .


Kids section is not just for short people – although they’ve made their mark.


Checking out the Computer Lab.


Kids’s section filled with mulit-media.


The new library is now a reality — virtual and otherwise.


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Raising the Roof

Raising the Roof

Raising the Roof

Library-Events Center Reaches Milestone

by Anne Mooney / October 30, 2020

A group of 50 or so dignitaries gathered this morning, October 30, to celebrate the ‘topping out’ of the Winter Park Library & Events Center. This important milestone – the signing and hoisting of the final roofbeam — signifies that the structural skeleton of the building is now complete. Representatives of the Winter Park Public Library, the construction and the architectural firms and major donors joined the Mayor and Commissioners to place their signatures on the beam.

The signing and hoisting of a roofbeam is an ancient practice dating back thousands of years. Some describe origins from pre-medieval Scandinavian cultures, some refer to native American practices, and still others hark back to 2700 BC Egypt. The ceremony marks the completion of the building’s skeleton, and the beam is symbolic of the upper-most piece going into place as the building reaches its full height.

David Odahowski, President & CEO of the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, a major donor to the Library-Events Center, affixes his signature to the beam.

Via Skype, design architect Sir David Adjaye said to the assembled crowd, “Today’s topping out ceremony represents a huge milestone in the completion of the Winter Park Library & Events Center. The power of this project is that it represents another prototype, another version of what the library has evolved into – the library as a campus of knowledge. Once completed, the new complex will bring together knowledge and community facilities to make a village, a hamlet of knowledge.”

“The new Library & Events Center in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, will not only activate reading, imagination and creativity,” said Winter Park Public Library Board of Trustees President Lawrence Lyman, “it will be transformative for our community. . . . I couldn’t be more thrilled that the library’s vision has been brought to life by such a masterful architect.”

The grand opening of the Winter Park Library & Events Center is expected in the Fall of 2021.

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Library Runs Amuck

Library Runs Amuck

While COVID-19 Still Looms

by Anne Mooney / May 1, 2020

Cautious Re-opening Plans

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

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.”

Does any of this sound familiar?

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