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.
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.