Three commissioners want to buy Bank of the Ozarks property for park space
The purchase discussion came up as most commissioners said they opposed an offer to swap the property for the old library
By Beth Kassab
Winter Park Commissioners appeared to reject two different land swap proposals for the old Winter Park library building this week, saying they preferred to keep control of the building as a gateway to the city. They opted instead to attempt to purchase the Bank of the Ozarks property offered in one of the potential swaps.
Commissioners Sheila DeCiccio, Todd Weaver and Marty Sullivan said they were in favor of authorizing City Manager Randy Knight to offer $6 million for the property at 1100 N. Orange Avenue, just across Denning Drive from the future site of Seven Oaks Park.
“If we don’t purchase the property we will forever regret it,” DeCiccio said, noting that a multi-story bank building on the Ozarks land would be “out of character” with the neighborhood.
The purchase amount would potentially include $5 million in city bonds and $1 million from other sources.
Mayor Phil Anderson and Commissioner Kris Cruzada expressed concerns about taking on more debt in what is expected to be a lean budget year.
“I’ll count myself into the minority who questions whether a $350,000 per year debt service bill will fit into the next budget,” Anderson said, adding that amount could cover between two and four firefighters or police officers.
Commissioners are set to begin next year’s budget discussions in July.
“By all accounts we are headed into a recession,” Cruzada said. “I like the idea of purchasing it eventually. I just don’t think it’s appropriate at this time given the tight constraints on our budget.”
For now, though, the majority of the elected board asked Knight to pursue the potential purchase as well as to finalize a Request for Proposal to develop the old library site.
The details of what commissioners are looking for on the library site are likely to be approved at the next meeting on June 28.
Public comments at a special meeting about the old library land development earlier this week and those heard at Wednesday’s Commission meeting trended against the city selling the land.
“I have not heard a lot of favorable comments to dispose of the library property,” Sullivan said.
In recent months, commissioners have expressed a desire to favor nonprofit or arts-centered groups for the old building as well as potential residential units. So far, six nonprofits have expressed interest in the old library.
Heather Alexander, executive director of the Winter Park Playhouse, said Wednesday she is still interested in the possibility of the theater finding a home there. But the city is still exploring whether it could save the playhouse, which is losing its lease, by also purchasing the building it currently occupies.
If the city pursues the playhouse building as well as the Bank of the Ozarks land, that would make two properties snapped up by commissioners in the North Orange Avenue area where Seven Oaks Park construction is underway. The bank property would allow the park to expand and provide more greenspace in the midst of an increasingly dense urban corridor.