The $6 million grant Winter Park seeks from Orange County could turn the events center that will replace the Rachel Murrah Civic Center into an international tourist destination.
On Tuesday, April 23, the City will learn the fate of its request for a $6 million Tourist Development Tax – Advisory Review Committee (TDT-ARC) grant. The money will come from the 6 percent tax levied on every overnight hotel or motel guest in Orange County. If the City receives the grant, it will use the money to close part of the funding gap in the Canopy project. Only the events center part of the project and the raked auditorium in the library may receive the funds. None of the other elements of the Winter Park Public Library are eligible to participate in the grant.
Tourism = Big $$$
Tourism is booming, leaving Orange County sitting atop a big pile of cash. Florida Statute 125.0104 mandates the 6 percent tax levied on every overnight Orange County hospitality guest be reinvested in the tourism industry. Originally, the money was intended for large projects, like expanding the I-drive convention center and sports stadiums.
In November 2016, the Orange County Commission amended the Tourist Development Plan to authorize using excess TDT funds for capital projects recommended by the ARC. The statute is still restrictive — for example, at least 40 percent of all revenues must be spent on advertising tourism — but non-profit attractions such as auditoriums, museums, performance venues and aquariums may now be funded with these dollars.
Criteria for TDT-ARC Grants
Capital projects recommended by ARC need not be “tourist-dense,” like the massive convention center or sports stadiums, but they must meet three criteria in the amended ordinance.
The project must drive tourism and work with the tourism industry.
The project must demonstrate sound financial planning and show a proven record to deliver the capital project on time.
The project will provide economic benefit to all of Orange County.
The ARC’s latest recommendations include the Orlando Science Center, The Orlando Philharmonic, the Holocaust Museum, the Orlando History Center and the Winter Park Canopy project. All except the Winter Park project are non-profits that are intended to benefit Orange County as a whole.
Community to Commercial . . . the Evolution
The Canopy project, as approved by voters in 2016, would have been ineligible for these tourist tax dollars. Promotional material assured voters that the majority of the project square footage and funding would go to build the library. The events center was mentioned as a smaller replacement for the existing Rachel Murrah Civic Center, and thus could not have been promoted as tourist draw. Literature the voters saw prior to voting for the library/events center referendum focused on enriching the Winter Park community by catering to our children and seniors and improving our park space and our quality of life.
Adjaye Design = Big $$$
The expense of building the Adjaye design, however, presented a quandary for city leaders. They found themselves in the position of having to choose which elements of the project they could build, since the $30 million from the bond issue fell short of covering cost estimates, which are around $40 million and climbing.
First the promised parking deck was cast aside. The library shrank by almost 14,000 square feet. While the 2016 library promotional material stated it was “bursting at the seams,” the library now seems content with the addition of a mere 2,000 square feet.
Parts of the project once thought essential in early discussions became add alternates (“add-alts”) that could be included only if the City could secure additional funding. The porte-cochere over the entrance, thought to be a necessity given our weather, became a million-dollar-plus add-alt. Then the much touted roof-top venue fell into the add-alt column, soon to be joined by the outdoor amphitheater and the raked seating in the library auditorium.
What was left in the budget besides the shrunken library?
The project now has no parking structure and an expanded event center. Pre-bond referendum material cited an 8,000 square foot replacement for the Rachel Murrah Center. The Adjaye-designed event center is over 13,000 square feet.
Revenue Source Prevails Over Library Services?
The expanded event center will bring in revenue for the city. The various venues can be rented out for top dollar, and local businesses can expect to benefit from the increased traffic at the event center. While libraries provide public services and cost money to run, the event center will provide a revenue stream and benefit those wealthy enough to rent a venue.
Will the Grant Fix the Money Problems?
If the Orange County Board of Commissioners approves the $6 million grant, the funds will not arrive in Winter Park until well after the project is scheduled to be completed. The first payment of $3 million dollars is due from the County in 2022, with a second allotment in 2024. The projected completion date for the Canopy is Spring, 2021.
Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.
Guest Columnist Beth Hall
Mixed Use Development Community Input Session The Community Center Thursday — March 28th — 5:30 – 7:00 pm
Please Attend this Important Event
The whole of the Orange Avenue corridor and parts of Fairbanks Avenue are up for rezoning. Thousands of square feet of new retail, residential, and office space, as well as a Sun Rail station, may soon be in the works. All of Orange Avenue, both east and west of 17-92, is included in the rezoning initiative.
Impacts on Surrounding Neighborhoods
City Planning Director Bronce Stephenson is spearheading the push to obtain public input prior to making any changes to city codes. In addition to attending the public input session, another method for providing your feedback or asking questions is to use the newly created city e-mail address OrangeAve@cityofwinterpark.org. Stephenson is making himself available to meet with residents who have questions or input about the massive rezoning.
Mixed Use Development Already Permitted on Orange
For years, owners of the largest parcels on the Orange Avenue corridor have been unwilling to redevelop their sizable holdings under the City’s existing zoning guidelines. The guidelines already permit that combination of residential, office and retail uses otherwise known as “mixed-use.”
For as many years, the same owners have approached the city about opening the doors to more intensive redevelopment. Owners include the Holler family and Demetree Global, as well as the City of Winter Park, which holds about five acres at Progress Point. Changes to the Comprehensive Plan in 2017 gave land holders even more incentive to delay, since the changes called for new mixed-use standards or an ‘overlay’ to be devised by April 2018 – a deadline that came and went without fanfare almost a year ago.
Progress Point — From Albatross to Swan?
Because the city has long wrestled with the albatross property at Progress Point, mixed-use rezoning represents an opportunity to turn it into a swan. For every new zoning entitlement bestowed there, the amount a buyer must pay for it will increase accordingly. The need to sell this city-owned property has assumed a new urgency as the city copes with the $10 million budget shortfall for the Canopy Project.
Property Owners Aim to Go Bigger & Taller
With these three owners anxious to make big changes on the corridor, city planning staff are taking initial steps toward adoption of a new “mixed-use overlay.” Once in place, the overlay would allow redevelopment on a scale that will significantly exceed what would be permitted in the absence of the overlay or adoption of new zoning district standards.
In return for being able to build “bigger,” these landholders say, they will “give back” to city residents in a way that will benefit everyone. It is unclear what these gifts to residents might be. Infrastructure improvements, parking garages, or green space are just guesses.
Roadway Changes Possible — Is This Your Commute?
In an effort to calm or slow traffic, a road diet on Orange Avenue, similar to that implemented on Denning, is possible. Realigning or vacating interior roads between Orange Avenue and the railroad tracks are also possible outcomes. Roundabouts at intersections are another option.
Former Planning Director Dori Stone Kick-started Rezoning Effort
In July 10, 2018, at a city commission work session on mixed-use, former City Planning Director Dori Stone told commissioners that as a “legislative body” they had a responsibility to the community to “make this happen” and to “let the community know what this corridor needs to look like.”
Ms. Stone insisted that the 2017 Comprehensive Plan must be a “fluid” document, one that “changes with the times,” noting that some of Winter Park’s most “iconic places” are examples of “mixed use” development done before the city had a Comp Plan or stricter land use laws.
Leary Chimes In
More recently, on January 22, 2019, Mayor Steve Leary weighed in at the Chamber-sponsored State of the City address. Winter Park must undergo significant “generational customization,” he advised, as old ideas on what is desirable are discarded so a new version of Winter Park can emerge. Winter Park is in a “gangly” and awkward stage right now, Leary opined.
Once brand-new mixed-use standards and an overlay are adopted, taller and more massive buildings will “make a statement,” according to Stone. Existing smaller land owners on Orange Avenue will have the choice to re-develop under the new guidelines or to remain as they are.
Stephenson Welcomes Public Input
Stone’s replacement, Bronce Stephenson, is very enthusiastic about the yet to be explored possibilities for mixed use. Every move he has made has been aimed at inviting the community to take this journey based on a collaborative process. The input session on the 28th is one of only two. The second session targets land and business owners on the corridor, though the public is invited. At this stage, written notice to citizens of the process is not legally required.
The city has retained or will retain urban design experts to devise a master plan for the Orange Avenue mixed use overlay. The master plan will control the future of the corridor.
Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.
Guest Columnist Joe Terranova
Most of you know that as a result of my injury last October I have been keeping a low profile as I devote my energies to my recovery, but that does not mean I have not followed City events.
The election results on Tuesday, March 12 were most interesting. It is rare that an incumbent places second in a 3 way race, or in my opinion, would have lost if only the top two candidates ran unless he were an idiot or committed grievous acts on his own while a sitting commissioner. No one can say that about Peter Weldon. So why such a poor showing against a relatively unknown challenger?
All of you know I was a member of the group that tried to prevent the city from constructing the new library in Martin Luther King Park. The courts ruled in favor of the city and as far as I am concerned this is a settled issue.
Most of the people I speak to, however, are very upset with the current City Commission`s handling of the library project. The design of grandiose structures that do not fit into the fabric of Winter Park, the dominance of the project by the civic center — later called the events center and now perhaps the convention center –plus the desire of the commission to add on items to the project in excess of the funds approved by the voters has led to dissatisfaction among many — do I dare say a majority of Winter Park voters?
Naming the project the “Canopy” and then cutting down all the beautiful specimen trees was the penultimate insult. Finally, I listened to the Mayor`s presentation to the Orange Country Commission requesting tourist dollars and to Todd Weaver`s “Bait and Switch” video.
When did the citizens of Winter Park agree to be an Orange County Convention Center “Lite?” When was a discussion held with the residents on the West Side concerning the impact of thousands of visitors to their area?
True, many in the business community like the idea of thousands of additional tourists (translate: potential business customers) swarming through Winter Park.
During the time I was Mayor I worked hard each day to advance my vision of Winter Park as a “Premier Urban Village.” Every new iteration to this project moves us further from that goal. Putting lipstick on this pig just does not help it be anything other than a pig.
I am not a psychic who can predict the results of the run off election on April 9, but I can say this project is way off course.
The proper thing to do is swallow the current expenses paid to date, scrap the whole thing and start over. I doubt, however, that this will happen. The run off election should be interesting.
Joe Terranova was Mayor of Winter Park from 1997 – 2000.
City Seeks Tourism Dollars to Fill Library Funding Gaps
Hoping to raise more money for the city’s planned library and events center, a group of Winter Park officials is asking Orange County for $6 million in tourism tax revenue. The focus of their pitch isn’t books, but the number of tourists the Canopy project could lure to the city.
The carefully organized group, which included Mayor Steve Leary, City Manager Randy Knight, pitched the project to an Orange County review committee as a tourism magnet that will fill new city hotels and help local businesses.
The public was not invited to the February 18 gathering at the County Commission chambers. While both Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel and Pete Weldon were present in the chambers, Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Greg Seidel were absent. Cooper said she was not told about it. “The only information shared with me was that one of several possible funding sources was a grant from TDT ARC. I was not told about the meeting or the presentation,” she said when questioned about her absence. Commissioner Greg Seidel stated that he had reviewed the grant application prior to the meeting and had offered his “two cents,” but has not engaged in raising funds for the project.
Canopy As Tourist Magnet
Tourism development taxes are charged on short-term rentals such as hotels, motels and AirBnb properties. Typical uses of the money permitted under state law include construction of such tourism meccas as convention centers, sports stadiums and museums. Libraries aren’t tourist draws, but the Winter Park group clearly believed a grand event center designed by a famous architect might be.
Mayor Leary opened the discussion with a power point on Sir David Adjaye, the internationally famed British architect chosen to design the project, called the Canopy. Leary touted Sir David’s knighthood by Prince William and flipped through photos of Adjaye’s many government and institutional buildings, pointing out Adjaye’s work draws visitors “from around the world.”
Adjaye Design Offers “A State Asset Open to All Classes”
Adjaye sent a specially made video in which he commented on Winter Park’s unique character. “Winter Park is an extraordinary and small community in Orlando but has extraordinary ambition with incredible leadership. . . The library and events center project came from a very rigorous study of the climate and culture.” Adjaye predicted the $40 million project would become a “. . .state asset and be open to all social classes.”
Also speaking on behalf of the city were David Odahowski, President and CEO of the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation (EBCF), and Jane Hames, a member of the newly formed Chamber of Commerce Tourism Advisory Board. Former Mayor Ken Bradley was in attendance.
Edyth Bush Foundation Donates $750K
Odahowski announced that the Edyth Bush foundation would bestow an unprecedented matching grant of $750,000 on the Canopy project. Noting that the foundation is the third largest donor in the history of Rollins College, Odahowski characterized Winter Park as “an authentic cultural mecca” that takes its role in the regional tourism industry very seriously. “The Canopy will enhance our tourist destination and put heads in beds stimulating additional hospitality options [hotels] . . . stores staying open late. . . restaurants packed with diners. . .ringing cash registers, generating sales tax revenue and attracting more tourists,” said Odahowski.
“The Canopy Events Center will be a cornerstone for a tourism strategy enhancing our ability to host larger meetings, celebrations and trainings. . .With your support the Canopy will launch the next ‘Golden Age’ of Winter Park tourism,” he said.
Welcome Mat is Out for Tourists
City Manager Randy Knight predicted the Canopy project will conservatively result in over 5,200 additional hotel stays per year and over one million dollars in hotel revenue. Currently there are three new hotels under construction and two others in the public approval process.
He predicted the Canopy will be more sought after as a wedding venue than the Farmer’s Market, given its architect’s international fame. Knight said the Rachel Murrah Civic Center, which has been torn down, hosted 250-400 guests. The Canopy will have four separate spaces suitable for wedding parties. Knight stated the facility will have the capacity to host statewide conventions and he estimated 1,200 Winter Park hotel stays annually from those conventions.
Knight said it’s hard to predict just how many tourists might visit the site based on its architectural merits, but he noted that more than 30,000 visitors travel annually to Florida Southern to discover Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.
New Hotels Will Accommodate Increased Tourism
Some visitors could stay at the Alfond Inn, which now is planning a 73-room addition, Knight said. According to City Planning Manager Jeff Briggs, the 110-room Hilton Garden Inn and the 120-room Spring Hill Suites by Marriott recently broke ground at Ravaudage. Three other hotels are in early stages of planning and approval. Knight stated City staff is exploring selling other city-owned properties for hotel space.
Knight noted the city’s long and close relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, which is actively recruiting tourism from Brazil and the United Kingdom. Jane Hames, who chairs the Tourism Task Force of the Winter Park Chamber said an informal Chamber study found that British residents are the largest population visiting the Chamber’s Welcome Center on Lyman Ave.
Both Knight and Leary assured the Orange County board members that the Canopy is a shovel-ready project that has “wide community support.”
Nevertheless, the Canopy project has been surrounded by debate since a $30 million bond referendum was put on the ballot in 2016 for a new library, events center and parking garage. Of the 5,411 voters, 51 percent approved the bond issue. Later that year, a group of citizens collected more than 2,000 signatures to challenge the location in Martin Luther King Park, in hopes of preserving the park’s green space. That effort failed in the courts. Recently, park patrons were furious to discover that a large number of mature trees had been removed at the site.
Although the Canopy is still in the design and development stage, Knight said a feasibility study by a professional firm shows the center will easily cover its annual expenses with a profit. Knight and Leary promised they would not seek additional operational support from the tourism revenue.
Knight displayed a chart illustrating just how important the tourism dollars are to the City’s ability to build the Canopy. Of the $40.1 million needed for construction, $28.7 million will come from the net bond issue, $5.4 million from additional community support which was not described in detail, and $6 million in tourism development money. Another potential source of funds would be the sale of the existing library property on New England Ave.
Build It & They Will Come
City leaders suggested these large numbers of tourists will generate revenue on many fronts, and the activity around the canopy will drive intense redevelopment. Mayor Leary provided an aerial view of the project, claiming it’s more than shovel ready, it is shovel active. After the project is completed, he said, the City plans to plant over 1,300-caliper-inches of trees of different species.
We’ll Know in April
According to Commissioner Greg Seidel, the project plans are at a percentage of completion “somewhere in the sixties.” Seidel explained that when the plans, including all the add-alternates, reach 80 percent completion, the Commission will have adequate information upon which to base their decisions. Seidel estimated things would come together some time in April, when the City will have nearly completed plans and will have a better idea of how much money is actually available.
To View Video of Winter Park’s Presentation, click here.
Controversy surrounding the city’s new library project dominated the January 28 City Commission discussions, even though it wasn’t on the agenda. This time around, criticism came from state officials, who aren’t happy with the City’s plans to build its new library and civic center at Martin Luther King Park. The state has even warned that the city could lose future grant money for parks if it doesn’t comply with the rules.
None of that is stopping the City from going full speed ahead with the project. Plans are underway to tear down the Rachel Murrah Civic Center this week and take the chainsaw to 60 trees at the park between now and April.
City Out of Compliance with State Grant Rules
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection notified the City Manager in a letter dated March 6, 2018 that the city had failed to follow the rules governing a grant it received in 1994 for improvements to Martin Luther King Park. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper and several citizens pleaded unsuccessfully with commissioners to hit the pause button to resolve the issue.
Seen in this context, and taking into account the City’s failure, so far, to come up with a clear plan to bring the Canopy project back in line with the $30 Million budget approved by the voters in 2016, the decision to proceed with such haste gives one pause.
Playing the Blame Game
“There is a small group that continues to protest this project and has gone to the State and has asked the State to overturn previous State grants, once again costing the citizens of Winter Park money,” said Leary. “If we have to pay back the State . . . uh, this is a small group who are shooting people in the foot. It’s an absurd request.”
FL Department of Environmental Protection
The notification of non-compliance came from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and concerned the 1994 grant for improvements to MLK Park under the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP). The grant required the City to dedicate the park, in perpetuity, “as an outdoor recreation site for the benefit of the general public.” [emphasis added]
City Version of Deed Restriction Unacceptable to FDEP
A March 6, 2018, letter from FDEP General Counsel’s office warned that the Public Dedication recorded by the City in January 2018, “does not meet the requirements of the rule and is not acceptable to the department.” The letter went on to state, “Failure to comply with the department’s rules can result in the City being declared out of compliance and therefore ineligible for further grants from the department.”
This could affect the City’s application for a FRDAP grant for improvements to the wetlands around Howell Branch.
But Wait – There’s More
A January 16, 2019 letter from FDEP stated, “It has also come to our attention that some or all of the City’s previous land and recreation grants do not have restrictive covenants recorded for the parks funded by our grants.” In addition to MLK Park, the letter contains a list of other FRDAP grants for locations such as Lake Baldwin Park, Mead Garden, Phelps Park and the Howell Branch Preserve, requesting the City to provide copies of the declarations of restrictive covenants for each within 60 days.
A FRDAP grant to the City carries with it the requirement to publicly record with Orange County a covenant restricting the park to outdoor recreation, in perpetuity.
If the City converts this dedicated land to another use, according to the January 16 FDEP letter, the City must “. . .replace the removed property with property of similar size and value and replace any facilities (such as the walking trails around the current civic center that were part of the FRDAP grant) that will be removed by the new construction.”
Citizens Urge Caution
During public comment, several citizens urged the Commissioners to move cautiously with their demolition plans until the way forward is clearer.
“I see a tendency by the City to insulate itself from opposing views and from citizen input,” began Beth Hall. She pointed out that the original Library Task Force had considered multiple sites for the new library, MLK Park among them. “But I don’t see where the FRDAP grant was pointed out or considered by the Task Force,” she said. “Thus a major restriction on the viability of the site was ignored.” Hall pointed out that the City had made no attempt to inform voters of this issue at the time of the bond referendum.
Who Knew about the Grant?
In a January 30 email responding to a public records request from Beth Hall, City Clerk Cindy Bonham confirmed the City has no records of communications or materials about the MLK Park FRDAP grant being provided to the Library Task Force, to the Commission, to the Planning & Zoning Board, the Library Board, the Library Staff or to the trial court that heard the bond validation suit.
Road Not Taken
Referring to the FDEP requirement to replace all converted lands with land of similar value, Hall asked the Commission to remember the bowling alley property. “That it is gone is a failure of long-term vision and strategic thinking,” she said. “Maybe hearing other voices would have taken us another way, but we will never know, for that was the road not taken.”
When is a Canopy Not a Canopy?
Charley Williams displayed the City’s tree demolition legend, which identifies more than 60 trees that will fall victim to the chainsaw this spring. He suggested the City Communications Department might keep citizens abreast of what will transpire in MLK Park. He showed before and after pictures of mature live oaks that were removed January 26 to make way for the Civic Center demolition.
Williams urged Winter Park to “show some leadership” by heeding the advice of the Winter Park Forestry department to save mature specimen trees by root pruning and moving them to safety within the park. He pointed out that other cities have done this and that there are Winter Park residents ready and willing to privately fund the project. “We’ve already named it the Canopy,” said Williams. “Now I think we ought to walk the walk.”
‘We Keep Whittling Away Amenities While the Price Goes Up’
Kim Allen enumerated ways in which the Canopy project has changed since it started in 2016. The square footage of the library is significantly reduced. Elements of the buildings, like the porte cochere at the entrance, have either been eliminated or declared ‘alternatives,’ which the City can build only if it raises additional money. The $30 Million budget cannot accommodate many elements that would seem integral to the success of the project.
Sarah Sprinkel: “It Makes Me Mad”
In her closing comments, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel decried having what she called “an issue that some people in this community have created for us.”
Cooper reiterated her suggestion to put the matter of the grants on the City Manager’s report so that people could see periodic updates of how the City is working through the issue. Cooper’s desire for this kind of transparency was not supported by her fellow Commissioners.
Leary: “It Just Seems to be One Thing After Another”
In his concluding remarks, Mayor Leary said, “Whether it’s trees outside, or whether it’s water . . . I mean, it’s one thing after another.”