Winter Park commissioners want to hear from the private and non-profit sector regarding a 1.75-acre plot of land it owns near Park Avenue and Rollins College.
At a city commission workshop session Thursday afternoon, city officials discussed releasing a Request for Information (RFI) to find respondents interested in entering a triple-net lease with the city for the former library property at 460 E. New England Avenue.
Precise details for the solicitation are still being worked out, but city officials agreed the city would retain ownership of the property and will lean on delivering the site as-is. Proposed uses should also meet the city’s parking requirements — meaning uses would have to fit within the available 110 parking spaces, give or take, if the surface parking lot is reconfigured.
An agreement would also have to be revenue-neutral or a revenue generator for the city. 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.
Budget and Management Division Director Peter Moore said the city should be open to considering subsidies through a long-term favorable rent rate or through direct cash contribution. It’s unclear how much the city is willing to contribute at this time. Winter Park has already 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. She mentions she’s received interest from museums and 4Rivers owner John Rivers.
According to a task force report commissioned by the city in 2019 to review the old library site’s potential uses, Rivers put forward a concept to adaptively reuse the existing library building. The proposal included a multi-leveled program and business model with art-filled community gathering spaces, retail, and office co-working space. John Rife, the founder of East End Marketplace; Wade Miller, an architect with ACi; and Tracy Liffey, owner of New General Cafe & Coffee Bar, were part of the group.
The task force was asked to clarify its recommendation on whether to lease the existing building or allow it to be demolished and redeveloped. According to a 2019 appraisal, completed by Meridian Appraisal Group, the city could have potentially collected between $3.2 million to $8.7 million for the highest and best use, which according to current zoning would be R-4 luxury condominiums.
At the work session, Mayor Phil Anderson said he was not willing to sell the property because a flood of city residents have expressed their opposition to a residential building being constructed on the site.
Michael Weinberg, a managing director in the Orlando office of Berkadia, said there’s a number of ways to utilize the site, but to him, the most logical buyer is Rollins College. The site could be used “as an extension of their campus since they are basically landlocked and opportunities to acquire like this don’t come around for them that often,” he said.
In an email to GrowthSpotter, Rollins College spokeswoman Lauren Bradley said the college currently has no plans to utilize the site but is open to collaborative discussions with Winter Park about potential opportunities.
Others are more skeptical that the city commission will be able to sign off on anything new, after years of dragging its feet to redevelop the library site and shutting down other proposed developments.
Luke Wickham, a real estate investor and broker with IPA USA, said the city has sent a clear message that it’s anti-development.
“I’m unsure how many developers want to spin their wheels with Winter Park when most deals get killed,” he said, referencing the Henderson Hotel project and the rescinded Orange Avenue Overlay District ordinance.
During the work session, Mayor Anderson said he was being careful to honor what community members want and would prefer that any kind of proposed restaurant or retail use in the building serve as ancillary uses to something else like co-working space or general office use.
“I have a problem characterizing the prime moneymaker as being heavy traffic retail and restaurant,” he said. “That’s not really my vision and I would probably object to that.”
The future of the roughly 33,000-square-foot building was put in limbo, while the city spent seven years planning and building a $40 million facility on Morse Boulevard. The new Winter Park Library opened in December.