Rollins makes pitch to turn old library into art museum

The college wants to add 5,000 square feet to the building rather than pursue earlier plans for new construction

May 23, 2024

By Beth Kassab

Officials from Rollins College along with developer and philanthropist Alan Ginsburg made a pitch on Thursday to take over the old city library building and turn it into the college’s art museum complete with an auditorium, educational space and a 5,000-square-foot addition.

The conversation took place Thursday at a work session among city commissioners, who have tried for years to find a suitable use for the old brick building, including two failed requests for proposals.

Rollins President Grant Cornwell, who announced his retirement earlier this year, said the college was willing to shelve more expensive plans for new construction, the latest version of which were approved by the commission last year. 

Cornwell said encouragement from Mayor Sheila DeCiccio and Ginsburg as well as a fundraising shortfall toward the $30 million for the new construction all weighed into the college’s decision to consider the old building.

“The first reason we’re here is because the mayor asked us,” he said. “… If this all came together and we could repurpose the building, that’s something we have to take seriously.”

He said donors have committed about $18 million to the project, which may cover the cost of renovating the old library and would allow a new museum to open much sooner than if the college pursued all new construction.

Ginsburg, a former Rollins trustee who has helped the college develop several projects, called himself a “pro bono developer” on the proposal and pushed for the change in plans after he was approached to help finish fundraising for the more expensive version of the project.

City commissioners appeared largely open to the idea and agreed to allow City Manager Randy Knight to begin negotiations with Rollins, which would prefer to buy the land from the city, along with several other groups that have recently expressed interest in the building.

The concept will appear for more formal discussion at the next City Commission meeting in June.

The Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts, a nonprofit music venue, recently lost its lease in Winter Park and also expressed interest in repurposing the old library into a music venue and teaching space. Jeff Flowers, a former Maitland city commissioner and chairman of the Blue Bamboo’s board, also gave a short presentation at the work session.

Commissioner Todd Weaver said the Orlando Opera as well as another group has also expressed interest in the building since the last request for proposal from the city yielded just one response.

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    By: Beth Kassab

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