Winter Park breaks ground on Seven Oaks Park, will seek performance space proposals
After the ceremony the City Commission held a work session and signaled it will ask developers to submit concepts for a piece of the park
By Beth Kassab
A crowd gathered Thursday morning under a tent to break ground at Seven Oaks Park surrounded by the namesake Live Oaks taking root along the perimeter of the wedge-shaped lot that comes to a point at Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.
“In the future you won’t need the tent, the trees will provide the shade,” said Larry Adams, principal at ACI Architecture, who designed the city’s newest park and has been involved in the concept from the start, creating the first set of blueprints pro bono.
A construction manager is expected to be chosen for the 2.4-acre project soon, Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson said. Renderings call for the greenspace to become a community gathering spot that also helps link Mead Botanical Gardens with Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Anderson called the park a “three-year work in progress” after delays brought by the pandemic and hurricanes and noted the mature oaks planted last year at the site formerly known as Progress Point are a “symbolic start to putting something in place that will last for generations.” Anderson said Seven Oaks Park is due to open in mid-2024.
In a nod to the city’s love of its tree canopy, Anderson declared April 13 “Arbor Day” for Winter Park, and the Urban Forestry department gave away trees to residents.
Steve Goldman, chairman of the Winter Park Land Trust, thanked city officials and others who helped shepherd the project along to provide a green refuge from concrete and traffic. “It takes a village,” said Goldman, who is also a founder and financial supporter of the Winter Park Voice.
Just hours later Anderson and city commissioners moved beyond symbolism to the nitty gritty of how they want a specific area of the park developed.
For months, Winter Parkers have debated whether the Winter Park Playhouse should move to Seven Oaks Park since its leaders announced the popular theater would lose its lease next year.
Commissioner Todd Weaver proposed a concept that called for the playhouse to be built above the parking lot at the new park along with solar panels.
That idea appeared to gain traction with commissioners, who agreed at the work session that they would soon formally vote on asking for proposals for performance spaces combined with a potential café or other uses in the airspace above the parking lot area.
Heather Alexander, founder and executive director of the playhouse, said she planned to submit a proposal. The building would be paid for by the playhouse and would not require public dollars, she said. But if the theater ever left the park, the building would belong to the city.