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 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.
The expansion of the Alfond (with no additional parking planned) and and the proposed use of the old Library along with the proposed Rollins museum of art at Interlachen and New England losing critical parking will dramatically increase traffic in a residential neighborhood, let alone make it more difficult for emergency vehicles who use this street (New England) regularly. Does the lease provide for the tenant to also pay property taxes? If not, the $250,000 is not a net benefit to the city. My home is at 240 Alexander Place, and I oppose this use of the Library.
The residents’ word cloud would have looked completely different from the “Task Force” word cloud.
Something like this perhaps:
MINIMAL TRAFFIC IMPACT
Yes! LIBRARY BRANCH with City of WP renting nonprofit space to SENIOR CENTER and other community-service orgs, wellness cafe. COMMUNITY GARDEN and small PARK would be wonderful. It could mirror the community center on the West Side, and easily generate 250K in income for the city, with almost no need for parking.
Precisely. Our Winter Park looks more and more like someone else’s Winter Park. My elderly neighbors who walked to the former library would live to be able to walk to a green-space or resident-oriented venue…but walking safely has become frightening in the frenzied parking wars around here. Love to see City commissioners and staffers and cops walk all around our downtown neighborhoods as if they really lived here, loved here, and wished to thrive here.
Love the idea of a library branch. We miss the library and find the new one quite cumbersome to use.
Not really geared for senior citizens to use.
We too; nursery schools nearby, senior book clubs, painting classes, genealogy sessions, nature talks writing groups. These all contribute to wellness in this more intimate setting.
I wonder if there has been any consideration for this building and area as perfect for “the Elephant in the Room”; Rollins College?
I vote for green space with the caveat that the Alfond nor Rollins in general encroach upon it in any way, except perhaps to plant trees.
Green space is essential to life so my vote includes any other entity that proposes development on the land.
please no more green space
I think the issue here is the term of the land lease. I just can’t see the city getting over its skis for anything longer than 10 years. Would prefer green space with an outdoor cafe/gathering spot as a gateway to the city –for bikers, walkers, casual strollers. We’ve already started discussions on the Emerald Necklace which winds its way thru the city. This site could easily be another keystone along that path. And of course, shade. Let’s make shade and trees our WP promise. As temperatures rise, it’s the best give-back the city can offer its residents. More at www. 10minutewalk.org
What about the parking issues in WP including exploring shuttle service? Why not explore a multi-use of green space, outdoor cafe and other recommendations from residents? Of course the city may not have budget to make it happen but the company that is interested in the site could be persuaded to include additional resident input. Good luck.
I agree that some longer term forward thinking about our city, environmental impacts of climate change, services residents may need tied to those impacts and use as a beneficial community space would be a fair and honest discussion to be had at this point.
Anything but more “office” or “co-work” “space.”
No one wants or needs an office. There’s office space coming out our ears around here, vacant. Read the room, city.
Wellness oriented, community enriching, non-profit or city run cafe, community garden, etc., by and for the neighborhood, with minimal parking and traffic impact. Also, HANDS OFF THIS PARCEL, ROLLIE