With a 35,000-square-foot former library sitting empty in the heart of its downtown district, the city of Winter Park invited the business sector to bring forward redevelopment ideas for the space.
Hoping to see the old building with limited parking reimagined into something else — like a co-working hub, small retail or food hall — the city put out a request for proposals, giving interested parties a chance to tour the city-owned, three-story structure at 460 E. New England Avenue and a month to place bids detailing their vision.
By the time the solicitation process closed at 2 p.m. Thursday, the city had received just one proposal — much to the surprise of Mayor Phil Anderson.
“Wow,” Anderson told GrowthSpotter upon hearing the news. “I was hopeful that we would get more proposals but we will see what this proposal has in mind and we will decide how to go forward.”
But the public won’t be able to see what the bid entails just yet. Jennifer Maier, the city’s procurement manager, said the bids are exempt from state’s public record laws for at least 30 days following the closure of the solicitation period.
It’s up to the five-member city commission to decide if it wants to give the green light to the lone contender — a team consisting of Harbert Realty Services, general contracting company Brasfield & Gorrie LLC and architecture firm HuntonBrady Architects — or move in another direction, such as starting the bidding process over to see if a second go-around yields more results.
Before it gets to commission though, a five-member advisory committee they appointed to assist with this process will give its recommendation. The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for June 30 at 10 a.m. inside City Hall.
Damien Madsen, senior vice president and managing director of Harbert Realty Group, declined to give specifics on the proposal Thursday afternoon, but was also shocked to learn that his company’s bid was the only one submitted for the library property.
“Are you kidding me?” he told GrowthSpotter.
Harbert Realty Services is a privately held, full-service commercial real estate firm based in Birmingham which also has offices in Maitland and Winter Park.
Brasfield & Gorrie is one of the nation’s largest privately-held construction firms, providing general contracting, design-build, and construction management services. Its expansive portfolio covers everything from hospitality, commercial, government buildings to multifamily housing. With an office in Winter Park, its notable local projects include Orlando City Hall, AdventHealth Ginsburg Tower, AdventHealth Orlando Women’s Hospital, The Plaza, The Sevens Apartments, AdventHealth Apopka Replacement Hospital, and AdventHealth Celebration.
Hunton Brady is an architecture firm based in Orlando. Its portfolio includes the award-winning Truist Tower in downtown Orlando, NASA Central campus headquarters building at the Kennedy Space Center, the Holiday Inn Vacations Headquarters at O-Town West, and the University of Central Florida College of Medicine..
As a lifelong Winter Park resident, Madsen recalls spending many hours in the old library space since grade school, conducting research, writing papers, or studying for exams.
When the library closed in 2021 and the books and services moved into the new state-of-the-art, yet controversial, building at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. , Madsen saw potential in the now-dormant property.
Built in 1979, it sits directly beside the upscale 112-room Alfond Inn, which is in the midst of a makeover. Once complete, the hotel will be expanded with another 71 luxury guestrooms and suites and a new light-filled lobby Café serving coffee, crepes and light bites, transitioning to beer and wine in the evenings.
The old library property is within walking distance of the boutiques and restaurants that line Park Avenue. And its across the street from an 81-bed student housing facility for Rollins College, with the rest of the campus for the private college stretching to the west.
“I’ve been going in out of that (library) building for decades,” Madsen said. “I know this building very well. I think there’s an extraordinary amount of existing value in the structure that is there in place today, I think that the property could be repositioned to enhance the community.”
He added, “It’s right in the heart of downtown Winter Park. It’s a very visible building. It’s got exceptional access, exceptional exposure. It’s an iconic asset.”
Before bidding closed, the city hosted two public tours of the former library space. The tours were attended by a total of 18 people representing seven businesses, including the three firms that ultimately submitted the bid.
The other companies present on the tours were:
- Chesterfield LLC, a Winter Park-based developer of corporate offices and industrial properties throughout the southeast.
- RLF Architects, an architectural firm based in Orlando. Their work includes several projects in the cultural and arts sector, including the Harriett Coleman Center for the Arts in Orlando.
- Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra, a nonprofit with nearly 300 students and seven ensembles.
- AIA Orlando, the Orlando Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. AIA Orlando is one of the largest AIA chapters in the state of Florida, consisting of over 700 members.
Debbie Coble, a chapter coordinator with AIA Orlando, told GrowthSpotter she toured the library to see if it would be a good fit for new office space for the association.
While she realized the space was larger than what they were looking for, she left thinking it would be a good fit for someone.
“It definitely seems like there are a lot of possibilities,” she said. “The building is cool, and there are a lot of cool things you could do with it.”
In August, the city announced it would be requesting proposals from developers for ideas to reuse the vacant, brick library space.
In a draft of documents released for bid, the city said it’s looking for creative proposals that “repurpose older civic buildings and create unique activity centers.” It lists potential uses as smaller dining concepts, arts, cultural and nonprofit components, small retail, office space or coworking and incubator spaces.
It offered up examples of a pair of Tampa hotspots as inspiration: Oxford Exchange and Armature Works.
Oxford Exchange, which reshaped an 1890s hotel, has meeting spaces, restaurants, gift shops, book stores and coworking. Armature Works transformed a former electric utility building into a 70,000-square-foot mixed-use market with restaurants, bars and event space overlooking the Hillsborough River.
Commissioners said they will favor proposals that aim to create a space that is walkable, has clear city benefits and pays homage to the city’s arts and culture.
However, commissioners at the time said they didn’t want to create is a venue that brings too much traffic or noise to the area. There are homes to the north, and the library has only 68 parking spaces with room for about 15 more.
At a work session in February, Anderson said he was not willing to sell the property because a flood of city residents expressed their opposition to a residential building being constructed on the site.
Winter Park recently dedicated $300,000 to repair the roof and HV/AC system.
“I just really want something that’s new and different. I want something that’s going to set us apart,” Commissioner Carolyn Cooper said at the workshop session.
Before leading a tour of the library earlier this month, Peter Moore, the city’s Budget & Performance Measurement manager, told attendees that commissioners weren’t interested in seeing the building transformed into a residential site or a parking deck, though the latter could be considered.
And while the building has roof access, developing some type of rooftop component seems out of the question, he said.
“We spoke to structural engineers (about that option) and they laughed,” Moore said. “I’m assuming that means you can’t. Our opinion with staff is that is not feasible.”