The city is hoping the Winter Park Canopy’s potential for tourism will lead to a $6 million grant for the project.
A $6 million grant through Orange County could be the key to Winter Park building its new library and event center to its fullest potential.
The city is seeking a third and final approval on a tourism development tax grant from the Orange County Board of County Commissioners in the coming weeks. It already received two preliminary approvals from the Orange County Tourist Development Tax Application Review Committee and the Orange County Tourist Development Council.
Specifically, the grant would help fund portions of the Winter Park Canopy project that pertain to tourism such as the auditorium in the library and the entire events center, including a proposed rooftop venue, Winter Park Director of Communications Clarissa Howard said.
The project’s location in Martin Luther King Jr. Park combined with the various events being hosted at the Winter Park Canopy will attract visitors from all over, she said.
“This new library and event center will now have those patrons of the library be able to enjoy the park,” Howard said. “Maybe after a game, they come to the library and then maybe walk through the event center or attend an event at the event center — then enjoy the park after their event or a reception or something of that nature in the evening.”
The fact that the project is being designed by world-renowned architect Sir David Adjaye is a draw as well, she said.
“There are people that travel the world to see the work of their favorite architect,” Howard said. “Sir David is certainly one of those internationally acclaimed architects that also has a following. While they’re here either coming for an event and experiencing the Canopy or the library, hopefully they’ll also shop and dine and visit our museums and maybe even relocate to Winter Park.”
Winter Park’s focus on tourism is nothing new, Howard said.
“Winter Park itself — even before Orange County — was a tourist destination, even before Orange County had Disney (World) or Universal (Studios) or SeaWorld or any of those theme parks.” Howard said. “Back even in the 1800s, Winter Park has always been marketed as a destination for northerners to come.”
On March 27, the Orange County Tourist Development Council approved the grant application for the Winter Park Canopy — along with four other projects — by a vote of 6-1, with member John Stine dissenting specifically because of the Winter Park Canopy project.
“Just in reviewing all of the projects put forth, my concern is the Winter Park Canopy project,” Stine said. “I look at that as a great community project for Winter Park — I know they’ve got some issues within the residential community — but I’m having a hard time putting my hands around this project in terms of return on investment from a tourism standpoint.”
“My other concern is that, if we approve this project, it sets a precedent for other communities within Central Florida to come forward with similar type projects. I think it’s a great program for the residential community, but I cannot endorse it from a tourism standpoint.”
Tourist development council member and Maitland Mayor Dale McDonald spoke up in support of the project, adding that Winter Park knows what it’s doing.
“I feel pretty confident that the city of Winter Park will measure twice before they cut once,” McDonald said.
At the Feb. 11 Winter Park City Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight presented the commission with a complete budget that listed various add alternates the city can seek through fundraising and grants, including a porte cochere, a rooftop venue on the events center, an outdoor amphitheater and a raked auditorium in the library.
Knight also went through several additional enhancement opportunities, including improvements to the architecture and finish and getting 60 additional parking spaces on top of the planned 220 spaces.
Howard said the entire project with all the additional features and enhancements comes out to $40.1 million. That price tag would be paid for with $28.7 million in net proceeds from voter-approved bonds, the $6 million grant from the county and $5.4 million in community support.
As of Thursday, March 28, $1.75 million has been raised by the Winter Park Public Library toward that goal of $5.4 million.