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?”



Share This