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.