McCraney Property wants to build headquarters on land city wanted for park

McCraney Property wants to build headquarters on land city wanted for park

McCraney Property wants to build headquarters on land city wanted for park

The property management company is under contract to buy land on Orange Avenue owned by Bank OZK

Sept. 22, 2023

By Beth Kassab

After city officials learned earlier this month that Bank OZK accepted another offer on two acres the city tried to buy to expand Seven Oaks Park, speculation swirled over the identity of the buyer.

This week representatives of McCraney Property Company reached out to city staff and said they plan to purchase the land and are proposing to build an office to serve as the company’s headquarters, a city spokeswoman confirmed.

The city has not yet received any documents related to the plans. A call to the offices of Steven McCraney, the company’s president and chief executive officer who also lives in Winter Park, was not returned.

McCraney Property has offices in Orlando, West Palm Beach and Charlotte, N.C., according to its website.

“Since its founding in 1989, the company has grown to be one of the most active developers of high-finish industrial real estate – e-commerce fulfillment and distribution facilities – and private acquisition in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina’s major markets,” the site states.

It’s unclear when the sale of the land will close or how soon the company is looking to start construction.

The city offered Bank OZK (formerly Bank of the Ozarks) about $6 million for the property on top of waiving impact fees on a site at mixed-use development Ravaudage, where the bank apparently now intends to build a branch.

The Winter Park Land Trust offered $500,000 in private funding to help the city purchase the land and convert it to park space. The above renderings show the site as it exists today compared to how it could have looked as greenspace.

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Vision dashed? Bank enters contract to sell land that city wanted for park

Vision dashed? Bank enters contract to sell land that city wanted for park

Vision dashed? Bank enters contract to sell land that city wanted for park

Commissioner Marty Sullivan urged the city to make another unsolicited offer to buy the property, but hopes for a deal dimmed

Sept. 15, 2023

By Beth Kassab

After a contentious public meeting over how — or even if — the city should acquire 2 acres on Orange Avenue to expand Seven Oaks Park, Friday brought what appeared to be a final blow to any last hopes for a deal: the broker the landowner Bank OZK said the property is under contract with another buyer.

City Manager Randy Knight let Commissioners know the news Friday afternoon, just one day after the city sent another unsolicited offer to the Arkansas-based bank previously known as Bank of the Ozarks to purchase the vacant property for about $6 million.

That offer was the result of a 3-2 vote on Wednesday night to, for a third time, attempt to purchase the property after the city learned on Monday that the bank accepted an offer from an unknown buyer. Mayor Phil Anderson and Commissioner Kris Cruzada voted against the offer.

Commissioner Marty Sullivan, who tried to insert money for the purchase in next year’s city budget, but withdrew that motion for lack of enough support. Sullivan said he wanted to call the vote to demonstrate to the bank that commissioners weren’t “dragging our feet” over the acquisition. In public meetings there was a lack of unanimous support to spend contingency funds or issue bonds to finance the purchase.

Sullivan said he supported the citizens who “took the long view” of what the property could mean decades from now: a more connected series of green spaces from Mead Botanical Gardens to the Winter Park Tennis Center to Seven Oaks, which is still under construction along Orange Avue.

For some in the city, including supporters of the private Winter Park Land Trust, which offered $500,000 toward the deal, the bank’s parcel represented a vision to maintain Winter Park’s small urban village charm and would have preserved a slice of increasingly scarce undeveloped land in a busy business corridor.

“I’d like to see Orange Avenue become more like Park Avenue rather than become more like U.S. Highway 17-92,” said Brad Blum, a member of the land trust and former chief executive officer of Olive Garden and Burger King, who attended the meeting.

But the practical implications of a more than $6 million purchase during a year with a number of competing priorities for a piece of the city’s $208 million budget were too difficult to overcome for Anderson and Cruzada.

“I’m not about to put up money when we don’t even know where it’s going to come from and burden residents,” Cruzada said.

Anderson said floating $4.5 million in bonds, the difference after taking about $1 million from the city’s parks acquisition fund and $500,000 from the Land Trust, made the most sense, but he said other priorities such as new fire stations and flood control improvements are more pressing needs.

“I’m just not feeling or hearing the grassroots support demanding that this is the best use for city funds,” he said.

Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio said she supported the idea of buying the property to preserve as greenspace, but no longer felt the bank was dealing with the city in good faith. For that reason, she did not support Sullivan’s motion on Wednesday to add the bank property to the city budget, which left Commissioner Todd Weaver as the only likely “yes” vote in addition to Sullivan. As a result, Sullivan withdrew that motion.

“This is the third time the bank has pulled the rug out from under the city,” she said. “They have not dealt with us in good faith and have played us to get another offer.”

The bank did not respond to a call for comment.

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Rollins museum and grad school expansion win approval

Rollins museum and grad school expansion win approval

Rollins museum and grad school expansion win approval

Residents concerned expansion would create more traffic and worsen parking woes

By Beth Kassab

Winter Park Commissioners unanimously approved a revised plan by Rollins College to build a new art museum and expand the Crummer Graduate School of Business north of Fairbanks Avenue near the college’s growing Alfond Inn despite concerns from residents and others about parking, traffic and noise.

The concept for the block bordered by New England, Interlachen, Lyman and Knowles avenues was approved by the commission three years ago before the pandemic delayed the project.

On Wednesday, commissioners approved changes that include a lawn on the corner of Interlachen and New England that would preserve trees, a smaller Crummer building and slightly smaller signage on the outside of the museum along with  a condition intended to help alleviate concerns from nearby residents of $1 million-plus condo units about what they said could be noisy and unsightly roof-top air-conditioning units.

Planning & Zoning Director Jeff Briggs said the city’s studies have shown the impact of the project on traffic and parking would be minimal despite the loss of the surface parking lot currently on the property.

“It’s important that we don’t let the details get in the way of the big picture,” Briggs said. “We are the city of the arts and culture and how lucky can we be to be getting a world-class art museum brought to the city for free with Rollins paying for it?”

He said the plans are consistent with the city’s long-time goal of attracting “the educated elite” and the site “on the doorstep of the central business district could not be a better location for that to happen.”

But residents along with the president of the Women’s Club of Winter Park, which operates next to the site owned by Rollins, questioned that assessment because they said the surface lot on the property today is crucial to accommodate crowds in the area off Park Avenue, especially during weddings and events.

“This parking is heavily used,” said Carey Stowe, who lives in The Residences condo tower on Interlachen. “I think the whole traffic situation is getting glossed over just a little bit,” noting that he estimated about 100 spaces will be lost, a significant change not just for people who live nearby, but for anyone who likes to shop or dine on Park Avenue.

Briggs said Rollins freed up parking spaces in the Truist Garage just south of the block in question when it built a new 900-space garage for students and staff on the corner of Fairbanks and Ollie avenues.

Later in the meeting, after Rollins’ plans were approved, Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio said she’s heard a flood of complaints about the lack of parking off Park Avenue and asked the commission and city staff to consider building a new parking garage behind City Hall, roughly three blocks from the new museum.

“Let’s take a look and see if it’s something the commission is interested in pursuing,” DeCiccio said.

Mayor Phil Anderson suggested city staff “dust off” earlier plans for the potential garage and bring them forward for a review.

Rollins will provide 30 parking spaces on the museum and Crummer school site.

Rollins President Grant Cornwell told the commission that the project is “strategically very important to the college” to showcase it’s top-rated MBA program as well as its art collection. While the college owns 6,000 pieces of art, it’s only able to display 150 or so at a time at the current museum.

“We feel we have a civic obligation and we have a great desire to lift that collection up and bring it into the center of Winter Park,” Cornwell said.

Margery Pabst Steinmetz, a philanthropist known for the hall that bears her name inside Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center and who serves on the board of the Rollins Art Museum, said the current gallery is “bursting at the seams” and called on the commissioners to take a long view of what will be left behind when they are gone.

“I’d like us to think about a day when none of us are here … 100 years from now, what will be left in Winter Park?” she asked. “The cultural institutions of the city. I think we will all be very proud looking down from somewhere that this was created and it continues to serve our city in huge ways. I urge you to vote yes on this project.”

Becky Wilson, an attorney with the Lowndes firm representing Rollins, said the college has already agreed to leave certain buildings on the property tax rolls despite its nonprofit status to help generate revenue for the city and will provide five additional parking spaces for a total of 15 in a garage for people who live in the Residences condominiums. She also said the college has agreed to use the same acoustic engineer who helped dampen sound from air-conditioning units at the Alfond Inn that were the subject of a lawsuit between the condo owners and the hotel operated by the college.

City commissioners voted for city staff to have some oversight of the noise and view of the rooftop air-conditioning units planned for the museum and new Crummer building.

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Seven Oaks Park to break ground as commission set to discuss if theater can move there

Seven Oaks Park to break ground as commission set to discuss if theater can move there

Seven Oaks Park to break ground as commission set to discuss if theater can move there

The new park is designed to be a green refuge along a busy stretch of Orange Avenue and the concept of moving the Winter Park Playhouse there remains controversial

By Beth Kassab

City officials will gather Thursday morning to break ground on the long-awaited Seven Oaks Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.

The public ceremony set for 10 a.m. comes as the City Commission is set to discuss key aspects of the 1.5-acre park’s future this week at two additional public meetings on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

Central to those talks is a proposal by Commissioner Todd Weaver for the Winter Park Playhouse, which is losing the lease for its current building on Orange Avenue, to move to the park. A meeting last month some residents expressed support for the concept, but others expressed concerns it would take away from the feel of the park and add congestion to nearby neighborhoods.

Weaver’s plan calls for the theater to be part of the second story of a parking structure that also houses solar panels.

A brief summary included in the agenda for Wednesday’s City Commission meeting notes that city staff met with the executive director of the playhouse, who said the building would need to be 12,000 to 15,000-square feet and sit as many as 175 people, up from the 123 seats at the current theater.

The playhouse will also need 38 to 44 parking spaces to meet zoning requirements, according to the memo. One question is whether there will be enough space to accommodate enough additional parking intended for the park that will help nearby businesses that rely mostly on street parking.

The groundbreaking ceremony is open to the public on Thursday morning. The Seven Oaks name for the site formerly known as Progress Point was selected earlier this year in a public online vote in tribute to the seven large Live Oak trees planted on the property in 2022.


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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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Partnering for Parks

Partnering for Parks

Partnering for Parks

by Geri Throne / March 28, 2022

A unique alliance between the city and a local non-profit group could mean extra money for city parks.

In a deal thought to be a first for Winter Park, the city and the Winter Park Land Trust have agreed to share the cost of hiring a grant writer focused exclusively on pursuing parks funding. The city and the non-profit each will contribute up to $30,000 a year toward the position.

City commissioners unanimously approved the alliance at their last meeting.

“It’s kind of a historic thing,” said Steve Goldman, chair of the Land Trust’s board. Formed in 2018, the Winter Park Land Trust is an independent 501c3 dedicated to making sure the city has sufficient parks and open spaces. Like other public land trusts, it seeks to identify, acquire and preserve land for the benefit of the public. The United States has more than 1,200 of such organizations, but relatively few are in Florida.

Grant writers not only research the availability of funding from a variety of sources, but also write grant applications.

Under the agreement, the city and Land Trust will identify properties they both agree would be worthwhile to add to the city’s green space or to improve for better public use. That list will serve as a foundation for the grant writer’s research. The grant writer must have the city manager’s and Land Trust chair’s approval before applying for any grant.

At their meeting, several city commissioners stressed that for this alliance to work, good communication about the city’s priorities will be essential. Goldman agreed on the need for mutual consensus. “The city and the Trust have to come to agreement on each individual project.”

Grants for parks can come from a wide variety of sources. For example, Goldman said, “there’s a lot of federal money available for stormwater and transportation” that could also benefit parks. Several commissioners made that same point at their meeting. Commissioner Todd Weaver noted that the city of Orlando received grants for its Dubsdread Golf Course from the Florida Department of Transportation because the course’s improved ponds now serve as stormwater retention for the expanded Interstate 4.

Commissioner Marty Sullivan later expressed similar optimism. “This is a new kind of venture. City staff has worked on this and the city commission has looked at it and said, Yeah, let’s do it. I think there’s lots of county, state and federal opportunities” for money for green space improvements.


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