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.
Let’s leave the Seven Oaks Park as it is.
Poor idea and very self serving by Commissioner Weaver. Disappointing at best .
How is it “self-serving?” Explain.
I would say the first priority is to be sure there is enough parking that will help nearby businesses. If the Playhouse will negatively impact that aspect then it is a no go in my book. Certainly it is a no go if it will add congestion to nearby residential neighborhoods. It would seem to me that 38 to 44 parking spaces to handle 175 seats in the Playhouse is way too little and would negatively impact parking for the businesses. If the parking thing can get handled, then the second aspect of how this new parking and Playhouse situation would impact the quality of experiencing the park itself should be considered.
This seems counterproductive. Creating space then creating more need. You should really consider the idea thoughtfully. Do we want a playhouse or maybe better still even more parking spaces.
On the other hand if buildings anything else is up for grabs this is probably a good option.
I strongly feel we should not mix apples with oranges. There’s a plan in place for a park that will attract many for rest, relaxation and leisure. Providing space and including the Theater into this plan for the park complicates matters and distracts from the intended purposes of providing green space for residents. Why do we have to complicate matters? My heart goes out to the Playhouse but this should be handled outside the park scope of work. If any accommodations are considered for extra curricular use of space at the park it should be for 3-4 small incubator spaces, like the farmers market, to provide for the park residents while enjoying their stay. Like a hotdog stand, ice cream, drinks and so forth.
The Playhouse can referred to other economic development committee for further consideration. Respectfully, Carlos.
I am excited about the park and always enjoy the playhouse, but I do not think they belong together in such a small area. Surely, there is another suitable space in our beautiful town. Please don’t ruin what we have.
What about the former library building for the Play House and housing for teachers, First Responders etc.?
As much as I love the theater and want to support it, I think it’s the wrong place. 1 1/2 acres is barely large enough for a park, let alone a parking structure and a theater. I think it would be a mistake and that Winter Park should help the theater find another location that would work better.
As a resident of the neighborhood I am concerned about increased traffic due to theater performances. Besides parking, consideration needs to be given to the buses and vans dropping off and picking up patrons.
I am a longtime resident in the area. I welcome and look forward to the greenspace and the park. I do not think the Theater should unfortunately be a part of that space for reasons of parking, and added congestion. WP should be able to find another reasonable location for the Theater. Let the park be a park.
I do appreciate the innovative aspect of Commissioner Weaver’s current approach for Seven Oaks Park to accommodate the Playhouse: to elevate, solarize, and help save a local nonprofit asset supported by a dedicated following. Let’s call it Plan B.
There is also an alternative narrative to weigh/evaluate: call it Plan C.
Plan C takes a longer term horizon into view—looking 20 years into the future, to 2030 and 2040. Orange Ave, OAO, will look more like downtown College Park/Edgewater Drive. Vibrant, busy, accessible by transit. It could even become a walking mall w no cars.
Hopefully WP Playhouse will be just as successful and vibrant 20 years from now.
But whether a nonprofit or a for-profit, it is still very much a business. Profit and loss. Bottom-line financial sustainability in good times—and bad.
And the Seven Oaks green space becomes even more valuable as a unique community wide venue as OAO leaps to next levels of commercial fruition, 2-3 stories up and down the avenue. A corridor which could rival Park Ave.
Let’s rethink putting ANY type of building in this finite, hemmed-in Seven Oaks acreage. The “parks” portion is less than 2.0 acres. Let it breathe!
URBAN green space is by definition a rare upon rare commodity. Winter Park has a decades-old history of proposing our public green space for structures. MLK Park/Library and Events Center being just the most recent example. Let’s reverse this trend. It’s dangerous to our community health.
Going forward with wiser eyes, please consider this menu of options:
Elevated solar panels, providing shade over PP parking-YES
Non-competitive bid Playhouse Building—NO
Future parking garage-NO
Solar at WP Library/Events Center—YES-Bring It!
Arts and entertainment complex at W Fairbanks/W Lee Rd—YES—an incubator, new district driver. Let the Playhouse lead the way.
Increased organizational support/grants for area nonprofits, like the Playhouse—YES
We are STILL feeling our way with operational expenses and needed revenue at the new library/events center. With an economic downturn, that balance sheet doesn’t become any better.
The best use of the old library site is a continuing challenge. TBD.
Lets not rush to add a THIRD unknown to our future municipal financial report card. Taxpayers plead: Caution please!
-C J Williams
The park is designed to be a green space and center for locals to congregate. Adding a special purpose entity that would, principally by virtue of parking requirements, detract from the core mission of the small park is a bad idea.
I empathize with the sincere wish to save the Winter Park Playhouse from being displaced, but I agree the Seven Oaks Park is not the proper space for the theatre for all the above previously mentioned reasons all of which have great merit. The additional parking necessary for the playhouse will take away parking spaces for the already established businesses that need it now. It will add to congestion in nearby residential neighborhoods as well as to the park itself with the increased noise and later evening hours. I sincerely hope the Winter Park Playhouse will find another venue in Winter Park.
Should tax-paying residents be asked to subsidize a private business? There are more important things for which our money should be earmarked. The plans for the park should not be altered, especially so drastically, and with such short notice. Something as permanent as this requires proper due diligence regarding the impacts and costs. I stand by my previous suggestion- if it is important enough to the majority of taxpayers to support with their tax dollars, figure out a way to make it happen at the old library property or somewhere else. If that building cannot be used as it, make a new plan that can accommodate a leased space to the Theater, and whatever else would benefit the residents of Winter Park.
When Windsong section on Glenridge was developed, Harland Park was donated to the city by the developer. It’s maintenance is paid by Windsong HOA. No cost to taxpayer. Two acres (2) of lawn, a fountain, benches, sidewalk, trees. Free to city. Also, developer donated a 1/4 acre park at 1709 N. Park Ave. Free.
Why in the world can’t this commission/mayor use a little creativity and a lot less taxpayer dollars to forge a similar deal? Progress Point went from a bargaining chip with a potential developer of the land next to RR tracks to a government project. $4,000,000 total cost for a 1.5 acre park at Progress Point compared to free 2.25 acres of park space. Hmmm….let’s see. Which one is the smarter approach?
There is already a theater in the new Library building. They might call it an auditorium. But it has a high ceiling and there are a lot of chairs. If there aren’t enough chairs they could just add more performances. Or they could choose shows to perform that nobody wants to see. Then there would be plenty of seats available.. I’m sure nobody would mind. And if they don’t have enough parking there, people can park in the SunTrust garage near Rollins or take SunRail or ride their bicycles to the shows.
Aren’t theaters kind of 20th century stuff?
Why don’t they just send residents an email link to a Zoom meeting of the performances?
Then they could build their stage in Winter Park, Winter Springs, or Winter Haven.
It wouldn’t matter.
Because the seats would be in each resident’s own house.
To the WP City Commission:
While I thought the proposal brought forward by Commissioner Weaver was nothing short of ingenious, it is my fervent hope that you will act now to ensure that Progress Point/ Seven Oaks Park remains as green space.
Preserving green space for recreational enjoyment of the public will serve Winter Park residents… and commercial interests…well. No commercial development will ever set Winter Park ‘apart from the rest’ the way that beautiful park land will. You have already made such great strides in this regard, and I hope that you will continue on the same path. Future generations will be forever in your debt.
I don’t believe there is any way to overstate the need for green space and passive park space in the face of the fierce development pressures being felt throughout our region and throughout Florida. The pandemic shift has brought even more people to Florida and there is little doubt that this trend will continue for some time. The need to maintain this land as park land is powerfully obvious.
And, while I detest the idea of using Ravaudage as a template for the future land use for future annexations on West Fairbanks, the knowledge that this could ever happen is even more reason to preserve the Seven Oaks acreage.
The Winter Park Playhouse is a community asset. But the theater can successfully relocate. No similar alternative for Progress Point/Seven Oaks exists. I urge you to recognize that building anything (besides restrooms/park support facilities)- like an elevated theater- on the property opens the door for other development and other uses to support that development.
If you let it, a large new park will do for the Orange Corridor what Central Park does for Park Avenue. What a legacy!
Winter Park needs more green space and God is fresh out.