Winter Park Playhouse is losing lease, asks to build at Progress Point Park
The future of the beloved 21-year-old theater is uncertain as commissioners debate greenspace vs. development in new park
Winter Park City Commissioners expressed reservations Wednesday about a request from the leaders of Winter Park Playhouse to include space for the theater in the new Progress Point Park at the corner of Orange Avenue and Denning Drive.
Judith Marlowe, past president of the nonprofit theater’s board, urged commissioners to keep the performance space in the city and likened a potential move to the still-under-construction park to the presence of Orlando Shakes at Loch Haven Park. Without help, she said, the theater would likely leave Winter Park once its lease ends in about a year.
“We don’t want to be the Winter Park Playhouse located in Maitland,” she said. “We ask you to consider this option.”
Heather Alexander, founder and executive director of Winter Park Playhouse, said the theater group is losing its lease on the only building it’s ever occupied at 711 Orange Avenue, about two blocks north of the still-under-construction park land.
She said a potential footprint for a 10,000-square-foot building within the park brought a unique opportunity for Winter Park to help maintain the playhouse, which serves about 30,000 patrons a year, close to its roots. She asked the city for a land lease, but said the theater, not the city, would fundraise for construction of the building and pay the mortgage, noting the group does not currently have any debt.
But commissioners expressed concerns about potential parking problems and whether the theater’s presence would subtract too much greenspace from the park envisioned as an urban oasis and potential connector to other nearby parks such as Mead Botanical Gardens and Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
“This is a tough one,” said Commissioner Todd Weaver. “I’d love to see playhouse down there, but I don’t think the timing would work out,” noting the group’s current lease would likely end before construction could be completed.
Alexander said the theater operates even now without designated parking and a number of patrons arrive by chartered buses, cutting down on the need for spaces.
Commissioner Kris Cruzada noted his parents regularly attend performances at the theater.
“I’m intrigued by the thought of a playhouse there, but I would really like it to remain a greenspace if at all possible,” he said.
Bob Bendick, co-chairman of the Winter Park Land Trust, which helped the city acquire the property for Progress Point, joined other residents in urging the commission to remember the intention of providing “relief from an increasingly urban cityscape.”
“The city should designate as much area as possible as permanent greenspace,” Bendick said.
From the start of the discussion, Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio and Mayor Phil Anderson advocated taking a more in-depth look at the matter in April when the Commission is set to also discuss what will become of the old and now vacant Winter Park Library building. The City Commission will hold a work session on April 13.
“Is this the use we want for Progress Point?” DeCiccio asked. “If we do not provide space on Progress Point, is there another location we have within the city for [the theater]? Or is the commission willing to lose the playhouse?”
Am I the only one who is tired of non-profits asking for taxpayer handouts, in so many different ways, and getting them? Look at the edifices Advent Health has built as a “non-profit.” What would hospitalization costs be if that grandeur wasn’t the policy of their multitude of highly paid executives, laughing all the way with no corporate tax bill?
And get this – the NFL and PGA are non-profits, too. Really?
I realize the Winter Park Playhouse is small potatoes, but these 501c3’s are always preying on the good nature and charitable leanings of so many who can’t – or won’t – look behind the curtain. All they want this time is our park space. Right?
The article clearly stated the theater would lease the land and, “the theater, not the city, would fundraise for construction of the building and pay the mortgage.” I don’t see any request for a taxpayer handout.
Please read the article before commenting.
Read my comment before commenting. They want the park SPACE, for their use. A building, not green space.
Two more things.
1. I recall WP committing to a $1 million contribution to Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center, under Mayor Leary. Maybe Orlando will pony up some cash for the Winter Park Playhouse. Don’t hold your breath.
2. 30,000 patrons a year? We get 300,000 patrons in THREE DAYS at the Art Festival, in ONE PARK. I wonder if the City has any statistics on how many people use our parks each year. This brings to mind the concept of “highest and best use.” 30,000 users versus – what – hundreds of thousands? Think about it.
Thank you for sharing this! however the point of progress point (no pun intended) was to have more (not less) park space in the city. Carving out space for the playhouse (not to mention parking needed ). would go against that. Sorry WPP but I think your best option is to look elsewhere other than at PP.
Progress Point Park is the first WP urban park to come online in two decades. A rare occurrence. Just over two acres, a good chunk is already being devoted to flat lot parking. That leaves approximately 1.5 acres for residents to enjoy—as pure greenspace. In 5/10 years Orange Ave will look more like Edgewater Drive running thru the heart of College Park. Busy, vibrant, with lots of pedestrian and biking energy. Why not give those residents ample room to take a break from the noise, enjoy sitting outdoors, grab a coffee, pastries, lunch, perhaps have a picnic in the park? With plans for 2-5 story development along the OAO, a greenspace recharge zone becomes even more precious. Build out the park. Defer any development of 10-14,000 sf structures until after we can experience the gift we have been given. Citizens will thank you!
Finally, let’s put on our thinking caps: we can find a home for WP Playhouse – just not in an urban park space 20 years in the making!
Well said! “Green gold is an apt term for park lands. I think the Winter Park Playhouse is a wonderful addition to our community and enjoyed by so many but I agree we should find another location and not sacrifice park space that is so precious and rare.
The proposed park at Progress Point, the first new urban greenspace in decades, may disappear before we ever get to see it. That would be tragic for generations to come. And once you allow buildings for one use, it will grease the skids to allow even more building to support the first use. The theatre can go somewhere else. This park cannot be created in the same fashion elsewhere. Sacrificing parkland is a steep price to ask residents to pay. If the WP Playhouse is the thriving economic enterprise the lovely Ms. Alexander claims it is, finding an alternate location should be a matter of looking.
When did it get named Progress Point Park?
The Park needs to be purely green space. The theater needs parking which I assume is not in the plan for the park. The theater could be thought of in the planning for future use of the old Library property.
Concerning Project Point Park, the City of Winter Park government should take a look at the extensive renovation of Miller Park (a main gathering place) in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. Its dimensions are different, (78,522 square feet, with 25,500 square feet of green space), but that project incorporates a similar vibe. Importantly, it contains a brick community Stage featuring large glass doors across the front that can enclose the space when used for meetings and performances or be left open for concerts and other activities. Here’s a link to check out: https://www.archdaily.com/904078/miller-park-in-downtown-chattanooga-spackman-mossop-michaels-plus-eskew-dumez-ripple.