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New use proposed for old Winter Park library

The former Winter Park Library building sits empty adjacent to the construction site of The Alfond Inn at Rollins expansion. The Winter Park City Commission is considering a proposal from a developers to redevelop the 35,000-square-foot building that was originally constructed in the late 1970s.

A roughly $10.5 million redevelopment effort to add co-working office space, a cafe serving healthy options and health and wellness services to the former Winter Park library is pending approval by city leaders.

The city has been seeking a new use for its old library space since it closed in the heart of downtown in 2021. Earlier this year, the private sector was invited to submit proposals for the empty 35,000-square-foot space.

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The lone bid came from a team consisting of Harbert Realty Services, contracting company Brasfield & Gorrie LLC and architecture firm HuntonBrady Architects.

At a June 30 meeting where plans for the property were discussed, City Manager Randy Knight said the idea, while not perfect, is worthy of consideration.

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“So often we kill ideas and projects because we are looking for perfect,” he said “This is not perfect in my mind, but I think it’s very good. If we try to push for perfect we may still be sitting on this property five years from now just like it is, with nobody in there, with it getting more and more dilapidated, and (with the city) throwing money at it year after year just to keep it viable. So I think this is worth continuing to talk about it.”

Ultimately, the city commission will have the final say on whether the building is to be leased out to the bidders. The city did not provide information about how the lease arrangement would be structured under the current proposal. Per state statute, bids are exempt from state’s public record laws for at least 30 days following the closure of the solicitation period. The bidding closed on June 16.

Damien Madsen, a lifelong Winter Park resident and managing director of Harbert Realty Services, outlined his plan for the property at the June 30 meeting. He noted that there’s room for flexibility, especially when it comes to the use of the building’s ground floor.

On the top two floors of the library building, he wants to create co-working office space.

“That is a very, very in demand type of space right now,” he told city staff. “This year, because of the pandemic, there’s an absolute fundamental shift in how people use office space and it’s here to stay, it’s not going away.”

He added, “The hybrid model, of people working at home or working in an office, is also here to stay. During the pandemic, we realized that a lot of people who were either laid off or left their jobs have now decided to start their own businesses or collaborate with others to start businesses. We think this is an opportunity for those people to use a space in Winter Park that allows them to do that. So the top two floors I think is pretty much dead-on what we should do.”

He said he’s open to suggestions regarding the ground floor. In his proposal submitted to the city, plans call for a cafe with healthy and natural menu items. The rest of the bottom floor space would be available to medical, fitness and healthcare services.

“Not urgent care, but something like physical therapy, cryotherapy, stretch therapy, any of the health-related items that help people advance in their years,” he said. “We think that we could secure either one group to take some of it, or we could secure multiple groups and create a common space for those multiple groups. The co-work theme will go through the whole building.”

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He expects to invest $10.5 million into the renovation work.

But Madsen mentioned other possible uses for the ground floor. He told city staff that he’s talked to leaders of the city’s history museum about moving from its current location at the farmer’s market into the old library space.

He also suggested using the space for a gift shop selling Winter Park and Rollins College merchandise. That could be useful to guests staying at the nearby Alfond Inn, parents visiting students at Rollins College, and every other visitor of downtown, he said.

“They could jointly sell products, hats, t-shirt, cups, trinkets, whatever,” he said. People can walk over and buy Winter Park items and visit the museum. That’s still on the table.”

Built in 1979, the former library 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.

An aerial map of Winter Park depicting where the library and The Alfond Inn sites are.

The old library property is within walking distance of the boutiques and restaurants that line Park Avenue. And it’s 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.

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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.

Rendering of the six-story expansion wing of new guest rooms at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park, this view from New England Avenue.

City leaders have voiced concerns about inadequate parking at the site of the old library. It has 68 spaces with room for about 15 more.

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Addressing this, Madsen said he’s discussed working out an arrangement with leaders at Rollins College and Alfond Inn.

“We’d allow them to use our parking on nights and weekends, and they’d let us use their parking during the week,” he said.

The item is set to come back before the selection committee on July 12 and then the city commission during a work session on August 11.

While the commission has previously dismissed the notion of selling the property, Knight said that the city would get a better deal if it did so.

“I don’t see the commission changing their minds, but we just feel obligated to say “Are you sure?’ You could sell this property and it’s going to be a better deal for the city from a financial standpoint.

Madsen said he’d rather buy than lease. Either way, he wants to create something the city and its residents can use for years to come.

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“We are very excited about this project,” he said. “We really, really think this is the right project for the city and the people in the city. We aren’t trying to create some huge money-making venture, we want to deliver something that everyone can use and is affordable for everyone to use.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at (407)-800-1161 or dwyatt@GrowthSpotter.com, or tweet me at @DustinWyattGS. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


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