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.
I think that the idea of utilizing all of the space above the garage is brilliant, and I particularly like the thought of the Winter Park Playhouse occupying a portion of that space. They are a professional organization that has become an integral part of Winter Park for many years. With this new “sky-high” space, other businesses can evolve…a cafe/lounge and a wedding venue, to name a couple of possibilities. The time is now to design and build a structure that will serve for car parking and for a few rooftop leisure options, as well. The design would have to include a few elevators or an escalator or two. These considerations are critical to consider. Now, I can hardly wait to see some plans, Heather Alexander’s included. Let’s go!!
Why not ask quality developers to submit a proposal for an office/retail/residential building with a parking garage on the RR tracks? Give them incentives to provide a theatre space in the building, perhaps with a large patio that could be used during intermissions. WP Playhouse can pay a market rate, but they need a space. When theatre not in use, patio can be for tenants, customers, park users. Keep the proposed surface lot.
A 35′ tall building looming over the park? No thank you.
The word “park” can mean many things to different people. Is it sports playing fields? Is it tranquil green space where you can quietly think, enjoy being outside—trees, shade, birds? Is it raw nature where you can meander on trails, kayak/canoe waterways?
The answer is, of course, it can be all of the above. The issue is balance between the active and passive uses: what’s the appropriate mix? Is our city monitoring that balance and defending opportunities to adjust the offerings?
I think most people will admit putting a building in a planned park is beyond the “active v passive” debate—it’s simply raw development encroachment where trees, shade and grass should have the upper consideration. That’s especially true when we are talking about an area which is barely more than 2 acres. (Would you put the WP Playhouse in Central Park? Why not?)
To put it another way, how many places can you and your family have a picnic in our city? Yes, our parks are one of our greatest assets, but you can’t picnic on soccer fields at Ward Park, or on the newly acquired links at WP Pines golf course, or in the exclusive Rollins baseball venue carve-out at MLK Jr Park, or in the wetlands at Howell Branch Park (kayaking, yes, indeed).
Seven Oaks offers up a rare opportunity to add to our URBAN park passive holdings and to bring that ratio of passive to active into greater balance for generations to come. It is a Legacy project!
Let’s not lose this opportunity. It’s green gold. My thoughts only.
-C J Williams
Picnic space is abundant. Ward Park, Azalea Park, MLK Park, Mead Garden, Central Park, Dinky Dock, etc., etc., etc. There are 11 parks in WP. There are 7 playgrounds. There are 2 swimming pools with areas for picnics. There are 15 mini-parks that are public and open for picnics. You need to get out and picnic more. Many, many places to dine outdoors. When our kids were small (25-30 years ago) we would pack a picnic and take a jonboat to a forgotten stretch of Lake Mizell.
Progress Point needs people not passivity.
Yes, but Pitt, there are no ANTS at Seven Oaks Park.
If given a choice, why would one ever picnic in an active sports field or playground? It is ez to see why you took a boat out into one of the city’s more peaceful lakes to get away from the commotion. Passive park space is needed.
I see a lot of picnics at “Castle” Park, Azalea Lane Park, and Ward Park. Passive park space is Central Park. Generally, kids like playgrounds.
It’s funny to me that people want a passive park on a street with 14,500 cars a day blowing by and adjacent to likely the most dangerous intersection in the city. Maybe all the adult picknickers should wear helmets and neon green vests. Or they can picnic at Mead Garden-a 50 acre passive oasis which is 1200 feet away.