Winter Park is on the verge of building a new library and event center in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, but what will happen to the existing library property?
That was the question presented to an Old Library Site Reuse Task Force at its first meeting Wednesday, April 24.
The task force — put together by the city and made up of local residents and professionals John Caron, Miguel de Arcos, David Lamm, Jack Miles and Marjorie Thomas — plans to meet every two weeks to discuss potential uses for the property before making a recommendation to the Winter Park City Commission.
The first meeting gave the task force members an idea of what they could recommend for the property at 460 E. New England Ave. — a major piece of land that welcomes locals driving westbound down Fairbanks Avenue into the city.
Budget & Management Division Director Peter Moore said some of the options the city has heard include selling the property, leasing the property, converting it to park space, selling the property and dedicating the funds to park space, creating more parking for the downtown area, relocating city hall to the property, or developing a nonprofit cluster of different arts and culture uses, among other suggestions.
Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight, who made a short introduction at the beginning of the meeting, said everything is an option.
“We truly are seeking your opinion on what’s best for this community,” Knight said. “Clearly, this is not about making the most money off this property. This is not about intensifying the use of this property. This is about how to best utilize this property for the community. Anything is on the table — there are no preconceived notions of what will happen with this property. There are no backroom deals cut with any entity in the city to acquire this property. This is a blank slate.
“Whether it’s use it for a city function, use it for a community purpose, sell it, lease it or make it a park, everything’s on the table,” he said.
Task force members shared some of their initial thoughts and began asking city staff for more information about what could be built on the property, who has inquired about the site and when they can tour the building.
“I want to be very sensitive to the neighborhood (because) I’m a part of the neighborhood,” Thomas said. “I think that you have Rollins College across the street, you have the Alfond hotel next door and you have residential. … A business innovation center I think would be a natural (fit) — an incubator.”
“I think everybody wants to also protect the charm and the character of Winter Park,” de Arcos said. “When you’re heading towards Park (Avenue) from that direction, you come hard around that turn, and you just hit this wall of congestion and that big building right there. We could just usefully soften that up and bring you gently into Park Avenue versus slamming you into that wall of commercial buildings that’s very sparsely landscaped and you’ve got your stop lights. I think that would be an ancillary benefit, especially for the neighbors.”
Residents observing the meeting had a chance to provide input. Ted Stoner suggested Winter Park consider using the building as a way to observe nature.
“I feel like we’re missing an inherent element and asset of Winter Park, which is the chain of lakes, which is nature,” Stoner said. “How can we build a bridge to nature from our experience in the historic district of Interlachen and Park Avenue? At the library, you can see both lakes (Osceola and Virginia) at the same time. Whatever you build, could you put an event center on top to see both lakes at the same time? It’s so extraordinary; it’s just unexpected.”
Meanwhile, Jill Bendick suggested the city consider keeping the library property as a library, giving the new Winter Park Canopy project a secondary library branch.
“This city uses that library so much,” Bendick said. “The other thing that it would do in a simple way is it would build a consensus between the people who are very enthusiastic about the new space and the people who are doubting the value and function of the new space.”
One suggestion continued to come up: The city should not sell the property.
“If we sell off everything we own, which we’ve pretty much done, what’s left for the next generations?” Carol Rosenfelt said. “We don’t have any more land, and I feel like if the city doesn’t need the money, which we don’t, there’s no reason to sell off our assets that we’re not going to be buying back in the future. They won’t be for sale.”
The task force’s next meeting is set for noon Wednesday, May 8, in the Winter Park City Commission Chambers.
According to Winter Park Director of Communications Clarissa Howard, the task force will sunset and terminate Aug. 31, unless terminated earlier or extended by majority vote of the City Commission.
Moore suggested the task force come up with a report halfway through the process to present to the City Commission.