The City of Ocoee could bond out up to $25 million without impacting the balance of next year's budget and millage rate, giving it a capital infusion to kick-start road projects and the potential relocation of City Hall as part of its downtown master plan.
City commissioners will hear about the options on Monday night at the first of two budget workshops, prior to the start of budget hearings.
City staff know what key infrastructure projects are needed in downtown, based on GAI's advice. If commissioners want to get started on those in the next fiscal year, they'll have to dedicate funding now.
Ocoee's city manager and staff have submitted a balanced budget for the coming year. Monday night's workshop will present that to commissioners, and staff and consultants will be ready to rank how downtown infrastructure projects should be pursued.
"We have the ability to bond out $25 million without impacting the proposed budget and millage rate, these types of landmark opportunities for a small city come along every 50 years," said Craig Shadrix, assistant city manager. "We have a very high bond rating right now, so it's feasible to reach this dollar amount by restructuring existing debt and taking on some new debt. It would benefit the city as we'll get an extremely low interest rate because the bond market is so favorable now, much cheaper than borrowing from a bank."
Shadrix and consultants will ask to prioritize improvements on N. Buford Avenue (streetscaping, burying power lines and utility work), and make Oakland Avenue the focal point of downtown as a two-way brick road, with two- and three-story buildings on either side, anchored by retail and restaurants.
The third major infrastructure priority will be connecting downtown Ocoee to the West Orange Trail, resulting in a direct link to downtown Winter Garden.
"Trails are an excellent way to bring value to areas," Shadrix said. "We feel strongly that connecting our trail along Oakland Avenue to the West Orange Trail will be a major piece in creating an environment downtown that is amenable to redevelopment."
They'll also recommend relocating Ocoee's City Hall a block south, freeing up a valuable public property for redevelopment as a downtown anchor, potentially a park or mixed-use center.
"The lakefront property where City Hall is located on is arguably the most valuable piece of property in Downtown Ocoee," said Angel de la Portilla, head of Central Florida Strategies, Inc., who was hired in mid-July on a six-month contract to serve as economic development advisor to the city. "The idea is to create a lakefront destination there that could draw in a variety of uses."
The city's municipal complex has five buildings including City Hall on a 9-acre parcel along N. Lakeshore Drive, between Lakeview Street and Oakland Avenue.
Some of those public offices could be relocated directly south, where the city owns almost an entire block of vacant land, set on the northeast corner of N. Bluford Avenue and E. McKey Street. Roughly 2.9 acres on that block are city-owned, semi-contiguous due to one remaining 0.175-acre homestead, and 0.394 acres owned by the Women's Club of Ocoee.
Ocoee will have a booth at ICSC's Florida Conference & Deal Making (Aug. 21-23 in Orlando), where Shadrix and de la Portilla will show developers the City Hall property that could become available for redevelopment.
Staff will also recommend expanding the city-owned Lakeshore Center, which currently seats about 225 for banquets and is booked out a year in advance for weddings. Plans could boost its capacity to 500.
Shadrix is optimistic that commissioners will take a big step forward Monday night by asking staff to work up bond documents, following presentations by himself, de la Portilla and members of GAI Consultants.
"We're in a growth cycle, property values increased last year for the third year in a row," Shadrix said. "Now's a good opportunity for Ocoee to become the next growth center for Central Florida."