Commissioner asks if Playhouse could build in new park’s surface lot

Commissioner asks if Playhouse could build in new park’s surface lot

Commissioner asks if Playhouse could build in new park's surface lot

In an attempt to find a new home for the beloved Winter Park theater, Todd Weaver proposes park could be the answer without eating away greenspace

Intense debate erupted earlier this month when the operators of Winter Park Playhouse announced they were losing their lease and asked the City Commission if the small theater could find a home in the new Seven Oaks Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

Some argued the playhouse needs to remain in Winter Park, which is a challenge because of high commercial rents and land prices, and suggested there would be room to build a theater in the area already set aside for a building at the under-construction park. But critics of that plan countered that the theater would subtract from the park’s long-desired greenspace and worsen parking and traffic problems for nearby businesses and residents.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Todd Weaver proposed a meet-in-the-middle solution, though a number of questions remain. He presented PowerPoint slides that showed how the playhouse could construct a 12,000-square-foot theater by elevating it above the 36,000-square-foot parking lot already planned for the park. There is also enough space for solar awnings to help power the theater and park, he said.

Seven Oaks Park concept with Winter Park Playhouse

The pink area shows the parking lot planned for Seven Oaks Park.

Under that concept, Weaver said, none of the planned greenspace or any of the 91 parking spaces on the site formerly known as Progress Point would disappear to accommodate the theater. (Commissioners officially named the new park Seven Oaks on Wednesday after an online public vote.)

“Time is of the essence,” Weaver said, noting that the playhouse has 18 months to find a new space and he’s heard from a number of residents who want to keep the theater in the city.

He also said an earlier suggestion to reuse the old Winter Park Library for the theater likely would not work because the ceiling heights are too low.

Under Weaver’s proposal, the city would negotiate a land lease with Winter Park Playhouse, but the nonprofit operators would be responsible for raising the money to build the new theater as well as maintain and operate the building.

Heather Alexander, founder of the playhouse, along with Mayor Phil Anderson and Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio expressed support for the concept.

“We never got into this request to start a fight,” Alexander said. “This would solve certainly our problems and allow us to go forward with a capital campaign.”

The concept will likely be evaluated in more detail at a meeting next month.

“This wouldn’t impact any of the greenspace,” Weaver said. “The parking lot can be shaded, which I love.”

While that plan would not decrease the number of parking spots already planned for the site, it would prevent a future parking garage from being built there. Parking is a sore spot among businesses along Orange Avenue, which have been looking forward to relief for their patrons from a surface lot at the new park.

Construction on Seven Oaks Park is set to break ground next month.

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Winter Park Playhouse is losing lease, asks to build at Progress Point Park

Winter Park Playhouse is losing lease, asks to build at Progress Point Park

Winter Park Playhouse is losing lease, asks to build at Progress Point Park

The future of the beloved 21-year-old theater is uncertain as commissioners debate greenspace vs. development in new park

Winter Park City Commissioners expressed reservations Wednesday about a request from the leaders of Winter Park Playhouse to include space for the theater in the new Progress Point Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

Judith Marlowe, past president of the nonprofit theater’s board, urged commissioners to keep the performance space in the city and likened a potential move to the still-under-construction park to the presence of Orlando Shakes at Loch Haven Park. Without help, she said, the theater would likely leave Winter Park once its lease ends in about a year.

“We don’t want to be the Winter Park Playhouse located in Maitland,” she said. “We ask you to consider this option.”

Heather Alexander, founder and executive director of Winter Park Playhouse, said the theater group is losing its lease on the only building it’s ever occupied at 711 Orange Avenue, about two blocks north of the still-under-construction park land.

She said a potential footprint for a 10,000-square-foot building within the park brought a unique opportunity for Winter Park to help maintain the playhouse, which serves about 30,000 patrons a year, close to its roots. She asked the city for a land lease, but said the theater, not the city, would fundraise for construction of the building and pay the mortgage, noting the group does not currently have any debt.

But commissioners expressed concerns about potential parking problems and whether the theater’s presence would subtract too much greenspace from the park envisioned as an urban oasis and potential connector to other nearby parks such as Mead Botanical Gardens and Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

“This is a tough one,” said Commissioner Todd Weaver. “I’d love to see playhouse down there, but I don’t think the timing would work out,” noting the group’s current lease would likely end before construction could be completed.

Alexander said the theater operates even now without designated parking and a number of patrons arrive by chartered buses, cutting down on the need for spaces.

Commissioner Kris Cruzada noted his parents regularly attend performances at the theater.

“I’m intrigued by the thought of a playhouse there, but I would really like it to remain a greenspace if at all possible,” he said.

Bob Bendick, co-chairman of the Winter Park Land Trust, which helped the city acquire the property for Progress Point, joined other residents in urging the commission to remember the intention of providing “relief from an increasingly urban cityscape.”

“The city should designate as much area as possible as permanent greenspace,” Bendick said.

From the start of the discussion, Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio and Mayor Phil Anderson advocated taking a more in-depth look at the matter in April when the Commission is set to also discuss what will become of the old and now vacant Winter Park Library building.  The City Commission will hold a work session on April 13.

“Is this the use we want for Progress Point?” DeCiccio asked. “If we do not provide space on Progress Point, is there another location we have within the city for [the theater]? Or is the commission willing to lose the playhouse?”



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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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Moratorium on Commercial Overdevelopment

Moratorium on Commercial Overdevelopment

We Need One Now

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

March 8, 2020 by Guest Columnist Will Graves

Developers. I used to exchange Christmas cards with some of them. One donated $6,000 to a charity I championed.  Another agreed to gift $21,000 for our Lisa Merlin House Golf Tournament fundraiser. One, who occasionally assists with the bread and wine at my church, prayed for forgiveness of my sins one Sunday. 

Falling Out of Favor

How did I fall out of favor with these people?  By publicly writing and speaking to shine a light on the existential need to preserve the unique scenic quality, historic character, architectural heritage, authenticity and property values in our pristine small-scale village of Winter Park.


Now, Florida State Senator Tom Lee (R – Hillsborough County), another with whom I used to exchange Christmas cards, wants people like me to shoulder the burden of all legal costs, should we find ourselves on the wrong side of an overdeveloper lawsuit. If that’s not enough, overdevelopment interests, seeking to economize on their tanning lotion by avoiding the sunshine, are now pushing the folks in Tallahassee to eliminate the requirement for those legal notices in newspapers that document what Winter Park citizens need to know to protect their interests.

It no longer matters what the zoning is — it’s who we know who can do an end run around the pesky public to get the variances and Comprehensive Plan changes we need, and forget those disgruntled Winter Park citizens who fear losing sight lines, driving down shadowy road-canyons and wasting time in traffic gridlock.


If you wish to continue to be able to move through Winter Park in an orderly and timely manner in the coming years, a long overdue Moratorium on out-of-scale commercial development should be enacted.  Sooner rather than later. The traffic you’re dealing with today pales in comparison to what you’ll be dealing with soon. That’s what happens when Private Interests are allowed to do your village planning for you.

Be Prepared to Fight

Barbara Drew Hoffstot, Rollins Class of ’42 and Rollins Walk of Fame honoree, nailed the problem in her book, “Landmark Architecture of Palm Beach.” 

Mrs. Hoffstot warned us, “Will you care very much for your country if it becomes largely one of visual concrete commercialism? The decision lies with each and every one of you, my readers. You will get what you want, what you fight for, and what you deserve.  So, don’t let your very fine past be taken away . . . without your knowledge and consent. Be prepared to fight when necessary!”


Will Graves is recipient of the 2019 Individual Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, a statewide partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A six-person statewide jury made the award decision.

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OAO Passes on 3-2 Vote

OAO Passes on 3-2 Vote

The End of a Long Week

January 18, 2020 / by Anne Mooney

After two days and 16 and one-half hours of mind-numbing debate, public comment and amendment proposals, the Commission voted 3-2 to pass the ordinances creating the Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO).

The Thursday meeting, a continuance from the 11-hour session ending at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, was a breezy six hours, lasting from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. At the final vote, Mayor Leary and Commissioners Seidel and Sprinkel voted in favor of the OAO ordinances; Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver cast dissenting votes.

Ordinance Will Have Second Reading at a Future Date

The ordinance changing part of the Comprehensive Plan now will go to Tallahassee for review. City Manager Randy Knight thinks that will take about a month. The measure then will return to the City Commission for a final vote.

While Thursday’s crowd was sizeable and most seats were filled, no one had to stand and none were turned away – probably owing to the fact there was only one issue on the agenda this time.

Forty-three amendments were proposed – most (but not all) having to do with the large properties at Subarea D (the Demetree properties) and J (the Holler property). Unofficially, 25 proposed amendments passed, 18 failed and one was withdrawn. Check the City website for official numbers.

Important Among the Amendments that Passed Were the Following

Orchard Supply and parcels on the east side of 17-92 were removed from the district. Commissioners agreed that those parcels are more appropriately included in a 17-92 overlay district, if one is created at some future date.

Progress Point Remains for Public Use

The OAO Steering Committee originally recommended that the City-owned Progress Point property, known as Subarea C, would be reserved as open space for public use. While agreeing to public use, the Commission revised Subarea C standards to include:

  • “A building limited to a 20,000-square-foot floorplate at 2 stories with a cumulative maximum of 40,000 square feet.”
  • “”A Parking Garage be constructed to provide required parking for onsite uses and additional parking to be available for area businesses and general public.”
  • “1.5 acre park space”

Existing Residential Not Affected

Existing residential properties will not be subject to OAO standards unless or until they redevelop as commercial. To protect existing residential structures within the district, new non-residential or mixed use development must be set back at least 35 feet from an existing residential structure.

Architectural Review

In addition to meeting the architectural standards of the OAO, “. . . for developments requiring a conditional use approval having a land area of more than 80,000 square feet, having more than 25 residential units, or having structures exceeding 35,000 gross square feet above grade, professionally prepared fully rendered 3-D digital architectural perspective images and elevations . . . shall be submitted to and reviewed by . . . a City-retained professional architect or by a City-established architectural review committee . . . .”

Height & Density Lowered on Large Parcels

The maximum floor area ratio (FAR) on Subareas D (the Demetree properties) and J (the Holler Properties) was lowered from 200 percent to 150 percent. The maximum number of stories on the Demetree properties is now six (down from seven), and the maximum number of stories on the Holler property is now three stories on land fronting Fairbanks Ave. and four stories on land located 100 feet back from Fairbanks.

Transportation Impact Fees

Large development projects within the OAO will pay “a proportionate fair share” of the costs of funding transportation improvements in order for the developers to use additional entitlements provided under the OAO. The City will develop a traffic model to identify needed transportation improvements and to establish a formula for calculating a proportionate fair share system.

It’s Not Over Til It’s Over . . .

The Commission has done most of the hard work on this project, but they can still make changes when the ordinance comes back from Tallahassee for the second reading.

But, For Now, All Eyes Turn Back to the Canopy

Commission Work Session will be Wed., January 22, 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Commission Chambers.





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Marathon Monday Stretches into Terrible Tuesday

Marathon Monday Stretches into Terrible Tuesday

Meeting Will Continue on Thursday, Jan. 16

by Anne Mooney / January 14, 2020

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.

Canopy Project

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.

Agenda Angst

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.

A Suggestion

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.


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