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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 2 months ago

Winter Park's new library and event center to take shape in 2019

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The Winter Park Canopy, the city’s new library and event center, will continue forward in the new year.
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

The year of 2019 looks to be a major leap forward for the Winter Park Canopy — Winter Park’s new library and event center — as the design phase presses onward toward an unveiling of the city’s final vision for the facility.

Winter Parkers early this year can expect the demolition of the building currently standing on the site of the new project as well: the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center at the northwest corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Park

THE LONG ROAD

It’s been a long road leading up to this point. The project has seen its share of controversy — most of all over the location in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. The city spent a significant amount of money in legal fees in 2016 to put a dispute to rest regarding the site. A group of Winter Park residents took issue with the language in a ballot item that went before voters in March of that year regarding a bond referendum — one of up to $30 million that would make the project possible. The ballot language didn’t include the location of the project, leaving some residents feeling they didn’t have a say in the new project’s location.

Orange County Judge Margaret Schreiber issued a final judgment Dec. 7, 2016, that validated the city’s desire to finance a $30 million bond to fund the demolition of the city’s existing civic center and construction of a new events center, library and parking structure — all within Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

Residents such as Peter Gottfried — a former Planning and Zoning Board member — still have strong feelings about the park not being the right place for the project.

“It’s right in the middle of a major traffic area … with 17-92 and all that congestion down there,” Gottfried said. “It takes up more area of the park than really what all the electioneering materials from the city said it was. It was going to be very compact and take up an additional 1% (of the park space). According to my calculations, it’s probably 8% of the whole park — that’s a significant increase in the amount of square footage. The residents were misled from the standpoint of what this was going to be.”

City Manager Randy Knight said the location makes perfect sense and will tie in nicely with the existing green space and it’s various amenities.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. Park is an ideal location for the Canopy for both our residents and visitors,” Knight said. “It is within close walking distance to our Hannibal Square neighborhoods and adjacent to the retail and commercial corridor as well. The Canopy embraces the natural surroundings and invites people to use the facility amenities while they also enjoy the lakes and green space around it. 

MONEY MATTERS

Other controversy has circled around the price tag of the project. The bond referendum passed by voters would pay for a project of up to $30 million, but new amenities such as a rooftop terrace on the event center, an outdoor amphitheater on the lake and a raked auditorium in the library have surfaced throughout the conceptual phase of the project.

It’s a series of events that has left some residents questioning whether the project will remain under budget.

“There is a fundraising effort currently in place to fund add-alternates such as the rooftop terrace, outdoor amphitheater and indoor raked auditorium,” Knight said. “The architectural design team is working on bringing the project within budget.” 

The city already has received positive feedback from private donors about the additional items, Mayor Steve Leary said at the Nov. 12 City Commission meeting. Commissioners voted that day to fund the design of the rooftop venue, costing $290,000.

“I will tell you that from the conversations we’re having again with both public and private entities, this is one of the items that is key to this project, they feel, and has received the most positive response back, so that’s why I can support this,” Leary said.

Some residents also have taken issue with the way parking has been handled — in particular the decision to go from a parking garage to surface parking, which will potentially take up more of the existing park space beyond the 1% originally stated by the city. The project is designed with 237 parking spaces (213 on-site and 24 along Harper Street), which is about 62% above the code requirement of 146. This will allow for more parking in the future, according to city officials.

“The surface area of the parking lot and travel lanes will be just under 2 acres, spread across three lots,” Knight said. “Early in the design phase, the idea of a parking garage was eliminated and was not included in the conceptual or schematic designs that went to the Commission for approval.”

An overhead rendering of the project shown at the Sept. 11, 2018, the city’s Planning and Zoning Board meeting shows the surface parking extending south beside Harper Street and encroaching into the existing Winter Park Croquet Club field.

“This project goes from bad to worse as it moves on — both financially, aesthetically and ethically,” resident Sally Flynn said during the meeting. “One of the things we were told was (the library) couldn’t be anywhere else, because there had to be a parking structure and that could not happen where the library is now. Now (the city) voted that down, and there’s no parking structure. We’re spreading parking and cement over where there’s green space. … We’re just taking more and more of that park. It is not following the rules of the referendum. This is a project that Winter Park cannot be proud of.”

Conversely, resident Jim Barnes spoke in favor of the project during the same meeting.

“I support the new library and event center,” said Barnes, who also agreed with the city’s approach to the parking. “I think the structure will be world-class.”

MOVING FORWARD

Despite the controversy and differing opinions, Knight said it’s perfectly normal considering the importance of the project.

“One of the things I admire about our Winter Park residents is their passion for our city,” he said. 

“Similar to the streetscape bricking of Park Avenue, parking garage at Park Place and the SunTrust buildings and even the beautiful Alfond Inn, there was some concern about all of these projects,” he said. “But now, years later, these buildings and projects have become a part of the charm of our downtown and what adds to the city’s unique appeal. I am confident the Canopy will be the same.”

The project is set for a grand opening date in August 2020.

Tim Freed is an Associate Editor with the Winter Park/Maitland Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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